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>I agree with Andrew's points, but I think Megan still had a very valid
>question because most of us eventually end up on a job where we aren't, for
>the moment, "functionally literate" in the field we're writing about. We
>do need to figure out how to keep the writing correct while we're coming up
Maybe the point to make is: it doesn't matter how or when you
learn what you're writing about, so long as know the subject by
the time you finish the manual.
Many people assume that writers need to know about the subject
before they start the job. And finding a knowledgable writer is
certainly reassuring to the company. I imagine, too, that some
writers need this prior knowledge in order to a good job. The
trouble is, finding a writer with the necessary background is
Fortunately, there's an alternative: writers who have the ability
to learn quickly. This ability is much harder to assess, because
it isn't knowledge so much as mental attitude. It seems to
involve the ability to draw analogies and to make connections, a
willingness to ask questions, and the power to poke around and
observe closely. Curiousity plays a large part, and probably each
writer with this ability has his or her own set of mental tricks
that they're only partly conscious of. These writers may start
out knowing little about a particular subject, but, by the time
they finish the manual, they've learned the subject backwards and
forwards and inside out as well.
I'm no Richard Burton (not the actor: the Victorian explorer who
could become fluent in a new language in a matter of days), but I
admit that I'm more of the second kind of writer than the first.
Given that the majority of my clients have been pleased with my
work (although I say so myself), I think I can say that the
second type of writer can be as successful as the first. However,
I'm sure that we're much more nerve-wracking to watch, especially
if you're dealing with us for the first time.
Anway, the point is: what matters is the results.
Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com | Tel: 604.421.7189
"And when I moved upon them down a byway,
Bathed and annointed, sweet with oil of rose,
They blanched, for they had left me on the highway
Covered with blood and with a broken nose."
- Roy Daniells, "Psalm 23"