RE: Should writers develop their own illustrations?

Subject: RE: Should writers develop their own illustrations?
From: Brent -dot- Jones -at- Level3 -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 4 Jan 2001 11:31:55 -0700

Ward Rosenberry wrote on Thursday, January 04, 2001 5:46 AM:

> A related poll question says 41.2 develop their own and 29.70 get help
> from graphic designers. My view is that writers must develop graphic
> content (where appropriate). If a writer can't learn/use something
> like Visio he/she should at least be able to visualize a sketch that a
> graphic artist can finish up. Otherwise the writer is not
> communicating fully with the audience.

A few observations.

While it's true that every technical writer should have some level of
ability to develop graphic content, in many industries the requirements for
graphics and illustrations with regard to polish, complexity, etc. go far
beyond simple flowcharts or diagrams.

I'm thinking of medical illustrations, manufacturing blow-up diagrams,
automobile shop manuals, and the like. Remember that technical writing
encompasses many industries, and is not limited to just documenting
software. I can imagine situations in which having the illustrations done by
a pro would be important. Granted, sometimes that 'pro' might also be the
technical writer, but to assume that it MUST be, to assume that every
technical writer must be a graphic designer as well, as you seem to do,
strikes me as unreasonable.

Remember, too, that technical docs sometimes serve as marketing collateral,
and graphics therein might need more professional polish than a technical
writer should be expected to provide.

Also, it can sometimes be much more efficient and cost-effective to have a
real graphics pro doing the illustrations. An illustration that might take a
technical writer hours (or days!) can often be done much more quickly by a
graphics designer. A graphics designer knows the tools inside and out and
uses them day in and day out. He or she can make PhotoShop and Visio sing in
the same way that a professional technical writer can make Frame and Word
sing. Why not take advantage of their expertise when possible or necessary?

In short, I think it depends on the situation and the purpose of the
document. I certainly wouldn't say that every writer must always be able to
produce all of his or her graphics without any outside help, or that it's a
failing in his or her skillset to be unable to. All I've expected
graphics-skills-wise of writers I've hired in the past has been the ability
to create flowcharts and simple diagrams in Visio, as well as to capture
screens and add callouts. If I need a technical illustrator I'll hire one.
They do exist, and for a reason.

Don't get me wrong. A technical writer's gotta be able to whip out simple
diagrams and illustrations with the best of them. But there are situations
in which you need a graphics pro to get the results you want, and there is
no shame or 'lack of an essential skill' in admitting that.


Brent Jones
brent -dot- jones -at- level3 -dot- com
"In the Kingdom of Boredom, I wear the royal sweatpants."
--Mark Leyner, _My Cousin My Gastroenterologist_

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