Re: Have to know Programming to be able to write about it? -- NO

Subject: Re: Have to know Programming to be able to write about it? -- NO
From: Chris <cud -at- telecable -dot- es>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2003 10:12:25 +0100

Do you have to know economics to write about it?
Do you have to know politics to write about it?
Do you have to know art or music to write about it?
(I don't know much about science, but I know what I like.)

Technical writing is very much like journalism. To get a job as a journalist in any of the above subjects you need more than writing skills - you *must* have a background. Granted, the local county paper might construe your being a contractor as a background in economics - if that's the best they can do. And also granted, with that limited background you may very well grow into a decent economic reporter. But you probably won't get that interview with Greenspan. And if you did, what would you ask - what would you report?

If you're documenting a product, you need to *know* that product. You are not just describing what's in the box. You are trying to get at the best-use scenarios. How can you know what those are if you don't know the product?

If you're documenting systems in general, you need to *know* systems in general. Otherwise, how will you be able to interpret the system specs? How will you prioritize the information for different classes of users?

If you are documenting an API, you need to *know* programming. Unfortunately, companies don't always have the opportunity to use a programmer/writer (or writer/programmer). But there are always questions such as: What happens to variables when the dll relinquishes control? What are the peculiar issues of memory management for this API? What is the best-use scenario? And on and on. You don't need to know the *answers* to these questions to be qualified to write. But you do need to know the questions. And you need to know when you have gotten an answer, and what that answer really means. The more you know, the better (more efficient) your interviews, and the more the developers will like you.

If you can learn what you need to learn without formal training, bully for you. I personally support that approach. If you want to take a course or two, bully for you. I support that approach, too. If you just don't want to know, then bully for you - so long as you are working reasonably close to the bounds of your knowledge.

Just my two centimos...
Chris Despopoulos, maker of CudSpan Freeware...
Plugins to Enhance FrameMaker & FrameMaker+SGML
cud -at- telecable -dot- es


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