Re: What tech writers "do"

Subject: Re: What tech writers "do"
From: John Garison <john -at- garisons -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 09 Nov 2006 09:42:40 -0500

I agree with just about everything that's been said by just about everyone. Especially Dick, but then that's not all that unusual.

What we "do" and what we "make" are different questions.

What *I* think we "do" is something I said a while ago:

As I tell my tech comm students, the five skills all good writers have are:

* Conceptualization (the ability to pick up the big picture very
* Investigation (the ability to flesh out and expand my big picture
through any means possible)
* Assimilation (the ability to "own" the information inside my head)
* Organization (the ability to figure out the best way to explain it
to others)
* Regurgitation (the ability to get the words out and onto 'paper')

I can learn almost any application in a short amount of time. After you've seen a few dozen, you start to see the common components even if they do very dissimilar things. You either learn how to learn fast, or you become ineffectual. I learned. On my current project, I managed to learn it enough to turn out a basic but complete help system (first draft level of completeness) in just two weeks so that it was able to be sent to an early level adopter.

What I "make" is something a bit different:

I make whatever my employer or clients want me to make. Not to say I don't have a lot of input (or all of the input in some cases), but what I produce has to work with a lot of other material, not just stand by itself. I make or have made all of the following at one time or another (but not all at once) and in various media (print, PDF, online):

Operating systems manuals
System utilities manuals
Programming language manuals
Investment application database guides
Real estate management system guides
Word processing system guides
Data sheets for a myriad of products and applications
Internationalization handbooks
Specifications for electronic printing systems
Guides for industrial process engineering applications
Presentations for documentation ROI
Conference brochures
Designing conference contents
eLearning application guides for Administrators, teachers and students
User assistance for online publishing system
Guides for workflow application (scanning, OCR, annotation, distribution ...)
User assistance for business process applications
Enterprise network management applications
Software encryption export application guides

As you can see, it's a VERY varied lot. That's what makes it all fun.

I also tell my students that I get to be Arthur Conan Doyle for a living: Half my life as Sherlock Holmes ferreting out clues and putting together the puzzle pieces, and half as Dr. Watson writing it up for the edification of others.

And my education is a BA in English and Philosophy. The philosophy part is invaluable as it taught me how to take something large, complex, and totally without corporeal existence and keep it organized in my mind so that I understand it and can see how changes in one area lead to often unexpected results in another. That's the assimilation thing I mentioned earlier.

So ... I love what I do. It isn't for everyone, and not everyone has the same approach as I do, but it works for me.

My 2¢,

John Garison


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RE: What tech writers "do": From: Sarah Bouchier

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