Re: History of TW before the PC and the Internet

Subject: Re: History of TW before the PC and the Internet
From: Harry Hager <hhager -at- dttus -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com, curtisb -at- nurserysupplies -dot- com
Date: 11 Feb 2000 09:07:53 -0600


There is another era, before PCs but after computers. In this era,
there were a number of mainframe of minicomputer word processing
systems, including Wang, DEC Document, DEC ALL-IN-ONE and numerous IBM
products, as well as others. With these word processing systems
systems (with little or no graphics capabilities), tech writers often
wrote their material at a dumb terminal and used company email (yes
there was email in the 70's and 80's) or saved their work to common
file storage locations for distribution and review. After technical
review it would go to the production group (read editors,
illustrators, page makeup people, pasteup people, etc.) where the
galleys (? it's been a long time.) were produced. More reviews with
little blue pencils and finally to the printer for publication. Some
big companies had inhouse printing groups, but most sent their work
out to commercial printers. Not Kinkos, these were real commercial

Before word processing computers (this is still after computers, made
by companies such as Burroughs, GE, Hughes, NCR, Sperry Rand, DEC,
Honeywell (?) and of course IBM) tech writers, including myself, wrote
long hand, used a typewriter, or maybe used a primitive mainframe text
editing program to write material. Maybe it would go to a secretary
for typing and carbon copies (cc) for reviews. Later it might have
been copied on a copying machine for reviews. After final review it
would disappear into the bowels of the typsetting shop, maybe inside
the company, maybe outside the company, and emerge as a book.

These methods were not unique, nor were they the only way it was
accomplished. Anyway, these have been my experiences.

To me, it's amazing that today one lone writer with a PC (assuming the
necessary page layout, graphics, and formatting skills) with the right
software and a good laser printer can now do the job that once took
the work and assistance of numerous other very skilled and well paid
people to produce a quality document.

We've come a long way.

H. Jim Hager
hhager -at- dttus -dot- com

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: History of TW before the PC and the Internet
Author: curtisb -at- nurserysupplies -dot- com at Internet-USA
Date: 2/11/00 7:39 AM

I hope that this will be a very interesting discussion string. Are
there any
TW's on this list who engaged in technical writing before the advent of the
PC and the Internet (I have the Typewriter-Mainframe era in mind)? It seems
that we as technical communicators in the 21st century have all of these
great tools (Word, FrameMaker, Illustrator, Corel Draw, the Pentium III, the
Mac, printers, scanners, the Internet, listervs, etc., etc.) at our disposal
and seem to take them for granted. It is also apparent that a lot of the
products that technical writers document today (especially the majority of
computer software) did not exist in the Typewriter-Mainframe era. What did
technical writers do in the Typewriter-Mainframe era? What additional skills
did the profession involve (except for the ability to write well)? When did
technical writing (or technical communication) evolve as a specialized
profession? This is, of course, not to mention what technical writers did
before the age of the typewriter and the mainframe computer (there probably
wasn't a distinct profession known as technical writing then).

Of course, technical writing has been with us since the beginning of writing
itself. There is technical writing in ancient documents. Even the Bible
contains a good amount of technical writing. I think it would be a fruitful
endeavor to begin to look at technical writing in a historical perspective.

Curtis R. Brautigam
Technical Writer
Nursery Supplies, Inc.
Chambersburg, PA.

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