RE: The Big Lie (was 'Are You a Writer?')

Subject: RE: The Big Lie (was 'Are You a Writer?')
From: jgarison -at- ide -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 5 Mar 2002 14:30:41 -0500

I once had the opportunity to hear Joe Chapline speak. For those of you who
do not know the history of our profession, Joe Chapline was the very first
person whose full time job was "Software Technical Writer." Joe worked for
Eckert and Mauchley back in the mid-1940s and created the very first System
User Guide.

Joe spoke about his experience recruiting and training other people to
document early software systems. They first tried taking engineers who knew
the content and tried to teach them to write. It was a miserable failure.
Then they took English majors who knew how to write and taught them the
basics of the technology. They were successful.

When I joined the software field in 1973, I was a liberal arts major
(English and Philosophy). I learned our company's product well enough to
provide technical support and troubleshooting when the tech writer quit and
I was appointed: "You with the English degree - you're a tech writer now."

I learned a great deal working for Digital back in the late-70s - the
equivalent of a CS degree in my mind. Nothing like cutting your teeth on
operating systems and internal utilities to learn how computers work. DEC
also had a program that hired liberal arts grads and trained them in the
technology. It more or less worked. Some people really got it, others
didn't.

But back then, most tech writing was about COMPUTERS, not about
APPLICATIONS. The audience for anything computer-related was other computer
geeks. Only recently has the market for software and hardware products
changed to include home users.

If I were asked, I would say that the shift of the market from industry to
home has had the most effect on our jobs:

* Our audience could be almost anyone
* There is a much wider spectrum of offerings
* There are a lot more tech writers now
* The applications call for very specialized experience

But the bottom line is the same now as it was almost 60 years ago: You have
to be competent at two things: 1) understanding technical information, and
2) the ability to communicate that understanding to someone who doesn't
currently have it.

My 2¢,

John




-----Original Message-----
>My impression is that, prior to the early Nineties,
technical writers were far more likely to be
technologically-oriented than they are now.
However, I wasn't in the field then, so I can't be
sure. Can any veterans on the list comment?<

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