Have you ever read your DVD recorder’s operational instructions or the assembly instructions for the new office chair you bought from Game? Did you ever become so frustrated with a new software application that forced you to consult the help file system? Not to mention completing your income tax returns. It is the job of the freelance technical writer to transform complex information into instructions that are easy to read, follow and understand in your home language. In a nutshell.
Imagine the following scenario – freelance technical writer
The Captain of a large Airliner is about to land his Airbus A380, with 280 passengers and 14 crew members on board. From experience he knows that he should lower the landing gear when the approach has been established at about 1500AGL (Above Ground level). The pilot in command instructs the First Officer, sitting to his right, to “Gear down”. The first officer flicks the switch by pulling, then pushing the landing gear switch all the way to the ‘DOWN’ position. The Green lights at the bottom of the switch, as well as on the overhead display above the captain, remain unresponsive. Instead, the red lights, indicating that the landing gear is still in the UP position, remain active. The computer on the plane realises that the plane is in the landing configuration and starts emitting a flashing red light accompanied by a beeping alarm.
A captain never panics, as always seen on TV, because he knows that the aircraft’s landing gear can be lowered manually. All he needs to do is to consult the aircraft’s operational manual on the instruction of how to perform this task. And quickly, he fondles in the side pocket of his pilot seat and discovers the flight manuals as well as the operational manual. An Airbus aircraft is manufactures in Toulouse, France, where all the rugby players are headed. The captain himself is Afrikaans, but is fluent in English, because he is a captain and he is clever. He flips the manual over and then upside down in order to reach the English instructions. In the index, under the emergency section, he finds the instructions for “Manually lower the landing gear”. Just in time, because the pretty stewardess, just brought him his coffee, the one that he always orders just before landing the “big bus” as he calls it. He quickly flips through the pages to read the instructions out loud to the first officer.
Now imagine the instructions that follow:
Section 34a. Landing gear not lowering, refer to section 34a landing gear not lowering.
Section 34b. Manually lowering the landing gear. Refer to 34c.
Section 34c. Using hydraulic override system in conjunction with landing gear. Refer to 34b.
Section 34d. Beeping sound with flashing red light showing landing gear in UP position. Refer to 34a.
Section 34e. No audible sound when landing gear is lowered. Refer to 34d.
Our captain, still very calm, takes a slow sip of his hot coffee and looks to his right to where his wide-eyed co-pilot is seated. Very disgusted with the manual he informs him in Afrikaans: “Wat die donner gaan met die Fransmanne aan? Eers steel hulle al ons goeie rugby spelers en dan skryf hulle die stront waaroor niemand kop of stert kan uitmaak nie. Nee man, en dan bou hulle nog deurmekaar karre ook. Imagine jou kar wiel raak pap?” The co-pilot is unable to mutter a single word, as he is occupied by keeping the plane straight and level. The air traffic controllers voice crackles over the radio asking the pilot to repeat what he just said, whereby the captain answers. “I is not spoken to you, I is spoke to my co-pilot”. Silence.
Eventually the captain calls the tower over the radio and demands to speak to a flight engineer. Luckily the engineer provides clear and precise instructions on how to lower the landing gear manually, nogals in English too. After they land safely the pilot calls for Mariekie, the flight attendant, and then thanks her passionately for always remembering his coffee before landing. She stopped blushing a long time ago, just before she stopped calling him Meneer.
Now all this drama only because the complex instructions stipulated in the operational manual, were not made clear and simple to follow. Luckily a freelance technical writer can transform this complex information into simple, clear messages or instructions that are easy to read and follow.
All the details matter.
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