Re: What do you write?

Subject: Re: What do you write?
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: Tech Writer <a -dot- technicalwriter -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2006 18:30:31 -0700

I've read the other comments in reply to yours in this thread and you're getting the view of tech writing through the Kaleidescope, and that's a pretty good place to start. I have a few (unsolicited, confused) patterns to add to what's been said to your windup to the main question. See comments embedded below.

Tech Writer wrote:

I have been a tech writer for almost a year, having previously worked as a
software engineer in the same company. I love the change, but there is one
thing that bothers me about it. I expected to spend most of my time writing
user manuals and help files, as our software is sorely lacking in user
documentation. I firmly believe that documentation would improve the
quality of our product.
If you can find some of the scholarly studies/articles by Ramey and Reddish from the University of Washington, I think you'll enjoy them. They work with the proposition that technical writing does add value to a product.

Unfortunately, I am more often assigned to write internal systems
documentation that is either ignored or simply filed away somewhere, mainly
because this is a small enough company where everyone already knows how to
perform their job from pre-existing documentation and notes. (The "head
cheese" who assigns these projects to me apparently doesn't see it that
way.) I'm afraid that my developer past is keeping me tied to those types
of projects.
Stop me if I am going wrong here, OK? I'll go out on a limb with intuition and past experience to speculate that the headcheese wants some sort of baseline documentation. Without some sort of documentation of a frozen state for a product, there can't be much hope of ever keeping track of the changes as they release the ongoing minor revs and major version updates.
An added bonus, for a writer with your background, is that SMEs, who hold the information you need, will be much more likely to discuss things with you than they would be with a tech writer who doesn't have a background in the technology. Your background can make you worth more, in terms of your compensation per hour, when you work on deep documentation.

I really want to build writing experience and to
gain knowledge of many types of documents.
Well, you've mentioned end-user documentation, and I want to mention that End-user documentation is its own thing and not nearly as interesting (IMHO) as internal project documentation, system documentation, etc. The formalities (of doc design and writing for end-user docs) appeal to lots of tech writers, who probably won't admit it but they get their validation from seeing a manual they wrote on someone's bookshelf, or from a list of titles they have written that might get read by end-users. When you're writing internal documentation, you don't get that same thrill of believing that thousands of people read you effortlessly, but I think that internal doc projects are just as valid and validating for the writer, if only in other ways.

End-user documentation skills can seem to be the core of some tech writing job descriptions, but many of those tasks are closer to desktop publishing than to plain old tech writing. If that appeals to you, you're probably free to hunt such opportunities, aren't you? But my advice would be to develop and build on your skills in the deeper technical arena, and keep working in internal documentation. That's where the real game is, if you ask me.

My question to you is this: On average, what percentage of your time to you
spend on user documentation versus internal system documentation?

Maybe I'm missing something, but what exactly is the dichotomy again? Is 'systems' limited to as built diagrams and component documentation, something like that? Is 'end-user' sort of a context-free description of how to use a particular package? I ask because I see that line as blurred--I have end-users for system documentation.

Anyway, I contract anymore, so my work tends to be focused on IT, one proj at a time, usually either system installation/administration/operation, or training material to train those same roles. Doggone me if I can break it up into percentages!
Also, how
much control do you have on the projects you get to work on?
As a senior tech writer, I am generally left to my own devices to get and keep my SMEs focused on working with me. But if I want their (SMEs) manager involved, I go through my manager to contact their manager. In short, I am in control where I have to draw on my personal resources to be effective, but I'm never in a position to exert much preference, leverage, or force. I can't impose 'the right way' of doing anything but my specialized little task as master of the word processor.

Issues of control, such as deadlines, document designs, influence over project stakeholders or team members, are not usually left to me as a contractor, although I sometimes find myself working with the client's bunnies, who look to me as a consultant and authority on all things tech writing, and what I say goes. Even in those cases, the client is reporting to someone higher up--I might control the horizontal, but they control the vertical.
Thanks for your input!

Yore welcome.
Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com


WebWorks ePublisher Pro for Word features support for every major Help
format plus PDF, HTML and more. Flexible, precise, and efficient content delivery. Try it today!.
Doc-To-Help includes a one-click RoboHelp project converter. It's that easy. Watch the demo at

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- infoinfocus -dot- com -dot-
To unsubscribe send a blank email to techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to lisa -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.


What do you write?: From: Tech Writer

Previous by Author: Re: Upper/lower case in heading
Next by Author: re Follow the following
Previous by Thread: Re: Type of Resume
Next by Thread: Re: What do you write?

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

Sponsored Ads