Re: History of TW before the PC and the Internet

Subject: Re: History of TW before the PC and the Internet
From: "Elna Tymes" <etymes -at- lts -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 17:13:51 -0800

I agree - wow, what a question to ask.

I started in the computer industry as a programmer in 1968, and became a
technical writer in 1970. Thirty years ago, tech writers researched how things
worked - hardware and in some cases software - and wrote manuals using
typewriters. SOME writers wrote drafts by hand and gave them to typists; some
of us were comfortable enough with a typewriter that we typed our own stuff. (I
can remember one writer who actually dictated his manuals to a typist, and never
touched a keyboard himself. I'm glad to say that he didn't last long in the
computer-dominated environment of the early 80's.)

When things went to a printer, chances were good that the entire manuscript was
retyped into a typesetting system that would seem arcane by today's standards.
Writers then reviewed galleys and noted corrections and sent them back to the
printer, who dutifully made the corrections and eventually printed the manual.
There were people whose whole job was to handle the problems associated with
getting documents printed.

Prior to the earliest word processors, art was generally donen by hand, by
graphic artists who knew about technical drawings. There were some templates
and things they could use, but no computers.

The early word processors were a bit of a pain to use, and for a long time it
was a tossup as to whether they were better than a fast, accurate typist on an
electric typewriter.

Up to about 1980, tech writers were mostly men, except in the computer industry
where there were almost equal numbers of male and female technical writers.
Most of the technical writing jobs were for companies that produced hardware,
especially things destined for the Dept. of Defense. Software tech writers
generally worked for the big computer companies like IBM, DEC, Control Data,
etc. But there was a distinct job classification called "technical writer" in
the mid-1960's, and there were both hardward and software tech writers then.

What tech writers did in those days was a subset of what tech writers do today.
One thing tech writers didn't do (much) then was create art. Another thing they
didn't generally do was get too involved in the printing process. But they got
deeply involved in how the subject matter worked and in the write/review/correct
process. I don't recall that there was as much attention to audience definition
as there is now, and there was little attention paid to usability until about
the mid 1980's, when word processors started letting you adjust margins and
white space and use different type faces and sizes.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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