Re: Knowledge of subject matter

Subject: Re: Knowledge of subject matter
From: "Simon North" <sintac -at- home -dot- nl>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2004 21:39:34 +0100

There has always been a chasm between UK writers and US writers. UK
writers are nearly always second-career engineers, while the majority of
US writers acquire their technical knowledge (if they do) on the job.

Interestingly, I've just been interviewing for a German company where
they had hired and then fired an American writer because she was too
concerned with spelling and grammar and didn't understand the

Having worked in EDA for the last 7 years, where the readership was
PhD electronics design engineers, you realised that there was no way
you could ever match the skill level of the readership. However, you did
reach a point where you could recognise the truth from the BS and
appreciate when something was missing.

I would therefore claim that a compromise is required. Obviously, you
must have the basics; enough to be able to converse meaningfully with
the SMEs.

However, it isn't about whether you can write, or whether you can
understand what you are writing about. Our added value as professional
technical writers lies in the fact that we do it as a profession.

Given time, ANYONE can write a manual. I've met several engineers
who would have made excellent tech writers. However, to retrace an
argument I placed here a while ago, that isn't the issue. As a
professional, skilled and experienced technical writer, the point is that I
can write the manual to a deadline. If I need to make a tradeoff between
time, cost and quality, I know where to cut the corners. You will know
what you get, when you will get it, and what (if applicable) it will cost. If
there is something wrong with it, I will know how to fix it. If it is the wrong
type of manual, I will change it into whatever kind of manual you want. If
you want it online instead of on paper, no problem. You want it as a
Flash Help application, or as PDF, you want to single source .. no
problem. A sprinkle of XML, sir?

Don't like Frame? ... well, if you insist I'll do it in Word, but I'll advise you
against it. Tools are like foreign languages; the first is a bit tricky, the
second a bit of a stretch as you have to unlearn a lot of things you have
taken for granted, but the third comes easy and on the fourth to start to
appreciate that they are all basically the same at heart and from the fifth
on it's all downhill.

Want it translated? OK, I'll write it so that it's easier to translate. Pay me
extra and I'l throw in a terminology list. Does it comply with EC
regulations? yes ... but if you want it to comply with an ISO or an ATA
standard, I will make sure it does. Want a second manual? No problem
.... and since I'm a professional it will be consistent in style, form and
appearance with the first.

My 11 year old son could probably write a manual, like I can build a
space rocket ... but don't be surprised if it doesn't work, costs a fortune
and takes years to build, and as for a second one? well, roll the dice
again will you?

Simon North.


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