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Technical Writing by Mark Metcalfe, Publications Professional

Some years ago, I developed an acrostic to help guide me as a Technical Publications manager. They have become my CORE values, standing for Clarity, Opportunity, Relevance, and Essentials. These concepts cover many of the issues any worker or manager deals with on a day-to-day basis.


Eighty percent of job anxiety is caused by not being sure what to do. Getting or providing clarity is a large part of getting things done. When things are unclear, productivity suffers. When things are clear, then you can make adjustments if things are not quite right. Having the objective in mind enables a person to start on the journey and make adjustments along the way.

As a writer, I sought clarity in my assignment and an understanding of how customers intended to use the product (and not necessarily how the engineer intended it to be used).

As a manager, I talked through assignments with writers until I knew they understood what the success parameters were. The more experience a writer had, the less we needed to talk through it, but clarity was very important to ensure that the project objectives were understood.


Opportunity is often an intersection between being prepared and recognizing a need. Clear objectives open possibilities of new or better solutions, and a good writer looks for ways to convey information in new and better ways.

There is a time element to opportunity, too. Opportunity needs to be seized while it is available.


Relevance is perhaps the most important theme because it defines the difference between best and optimum. The "best" may have a cost-prohibitive price tag associated with it, whereas "optimum" engages the law of diminishing returns to find the best return on the investment of time, energy, and resources. For example, a person can be the best chef in the world and take more than an hour to provide a sumptuous meal, but if a person at a sporting event is looking for a quick hot dog, the chef is wasting time making a soufflé. Similarly, you wouldn’t want a hot dog vendor barking at a fancy restaurant.

Knowing what the customer wants, needs, and can afford are critical to being successful. As it regards technical writing in particular, I have experience with projects that required very minimal documentation and was delivered outside of the corporate standard for documentation; it was a targeted need (a special order) by an important customer and time was critical. On the other side of the spectrum, I have experience with a comprehensive information set that must be carefully scrutinized before it is released. This is where company mission and vision statements are useful because they center an employee on activity that is relevant to the business.


Truthfully, I have often considered Excellence to be the final theme in my CORE values because I strive for excellence in my work. However, Essentials reminds me that first things should always come first. I had a writer on my team who was always thinking of new ideas. I put him in charge of an important initiative for multimedia in technical documentation. I knew he was up to the task but reminded him that if he failed to deliver on his assigned project, his work on the initiative would count for very little; our customers needed his documentation. (He did a great job with both!)

In the day-to-day decisions that have to be made, I think about these themes. Do we have clarity? What are the opportunities? How relevant is it to the objective? Are first things first?

So far, so good!

Mark Metcalfe

Posted on Tuesday, June 23, 2009 10:47 AM | Back to top

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