RE: Do I have to understand the material?

Subject: RE: Do I have to understand the material?
From: "Miller, Alan" <Alan -dot- Miller -at- prometric -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2002 09:31:09 -0400

Folks, I'm confused. How can a competent Technical Writer entertain the notion that he/she/it doesn't need to know the material?

Andrew does a pretty good job making the case for a thoroughgoing understanding of ones subject matter, but he sugar-coats it too much. <g> The writer better have at least as good a theoretical knowledge of the subject as the SME. So far, every tech writing contract I've had I won because I _was_ an expert an the subject, or a closely related one. I've written on everything from basic mathematics and science tutorials to detailed operating and maintenance manuals for power plants to simulator design specifications. Try writing a combustion turbine efficiency manual without understanding what a Brayton cycle is or St. Venant's equation. One poster (Doc, I believe) suggested that only a writer ignorant of the subject could ask worthwhile questions of an SME. Sorry, not in my experience. Only an expert can know what questions to ask and what questions _not_ to ask. Writers ignorant of the subject waste the SME's time asking basic questions the writer should already know. The SME immediately looses respect for the writer, who then gets to whine about not getting any ... respect.

Right now our profession is going through a Darwinian period. Tech writing jobs are scarce. Those writers with deep and broad technical backgrounds and knowledge have the distinct advantage in the market. Font fondlers and document beauticians are going to have a difficult time selling themselves as "technical" writers. The tech cow isn't giving any more. Time to crank up the old Delaval separator and take the cream.

Al Miller
Chief Documentation Curmudgeon
Prometric, Inc., a part of the Thomson Corporation
Baltimore, Maryland

In America, anybody can be president. That's one of the risks you take.
-- Adlai Stevenson

Want to support TECHWR-L? Get shirts, bags, hats, clocks,
and more from the TECHWR-L Store. All proceeds support TECHWR-L.

Check out the new release of RoboDemo, our easy-to-use tutorial software.
Plus, buy RoboHelp Office in August and save $100 with our mail-in rebate.
Get details and download free trial versions at

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as:
archive -at- raycomm -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Send administrative questions to ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.


Previous by Author: RE: Do I REALLY have to understand the material?
Next by Author: RE: Do I have to understand the material?
Previous by Thread: RE: Do I have to understand the material?
Next by Thread: RE: Do I have to understand the material?

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads