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Why being a technical writer makes me a better poet
1. Technical writers try to achieve both completeness
and accuracy. We have the advantage over poets in that
if we do not select the right words and put them
together in the right way, the customer calls our
company and says the product won't work. _We get
This teaches about the relationship between the words
we think of and what the reader out there gets from
2. It is only the immature technical writer who hates
being edited. We learn to think of editing not as
being sent to the principal to be whipped for using
the wrong word, but rather as going to an
old-fashioned hardware store with knowledgeable and
friendly clerks who will help you pick out just the
We learn the value of editing and to take others'
opinions into consideration. This works against
literary solipsism. (So does #1.)
3. Writing and rewriting a manual, especially as the
product gets changed and updated by the engineers
during development, ingrains in the writer's mind the
idea that no set of words is graven in stone. You may
think you have described how to carry out a certain
procedure in the most perfect imaginable terms, but
then the engineers make a change in the hardware or
software and you have to throw out that section of the
book and start over.
>From this you learn that you can do it again; that
producing a good piece of writing was not a fluke, or
a one-time gift from the Muse. It's a skill, and you
can do good work over and over again just by applying
4. Technical writing also teaches adaptability.
"Here, write a tech sheet telling them how to install
"But what IS it?"
"It's an xd38 type f for the DSTM."
"Oh, yes, right, OK."
It's a widget of some kind or other. Not only do you
have to figure out what it is, many times you have to
figure out what kind of audience you're addressing by
deducing the function of the widget--not unlike an
archaeologist deducing a culture from its artifacts.
This sharpens perception and rewards unprejudiced
attention to detail.
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