RE: Tech Writing a Growing Field?

Subject: RE: Tech Writing a Growing Field?
From: "Gordon McLean" <Gordon -dot- McLean -at- GrahamTechnology -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 4 Apr 2007 15:01:23 +0100


And at what point do you, you know, write stuff? ;-)

I get what you are saying Chris, in a big way, but what you've described is
a distinct role within itself surely? Yes "us wot write" need to be aware of
such things but if we followed all that through we'd end up as UI or IA
analysts... Or something like that.

Hang on, are you trying to put "us wot write" out of a job!! ;-)


-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+gordon -dot- mclean=grahamtechnology -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
[mailto:techwr-l-bounces+gordon -dot- mclean=grahamtechnology -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- c
om] On Behalf Of Chris Borokowski
Sent: 04 April 2007 14:38
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: RE: Tech Writing a Growing Field?

Good question, and I'm glad you asked. A user-advocate, design-centric
viewpoint means: we start from the design principle of how our software will
be used, and bypass many of the existing archetypes if necessary. Growth
means escaping old paradigms, like snakes escaping old skins. Too often
products are shipped based on the last generation's paradigm, and so put the
users through a series of boring tasks that are unrelated to the actual

In another way of seeing it, every software product lies between two points:
the people using it, and the goal of what it produces. That alone should
influence design. Even more, sensible UI design dovetails with sensible
product design in that it reduces software from complex options to
task-based processes. One example might be the word processor, which evolved
from the paper-layout paradigm to a document-containership one (some are
evolving slower than others). Too much of software ignores its actual uses
in favor of some apocryphal marketing speak, archaic presumptions, or most
commonly, lack of a concept of how it would be used. Design-centric thinking
gets away from this peripheral confusion.

I like the term "technical communications," but in my mind the field is more
than that. We're user advocates
-- we want to simplify and make more effective every product we touch, and
produce simpler and more effective documentation for it. Our goal is to
destroy confusion and ambiguity. We're also UI creators, but too ofen, UI
design is contingent upon quality product design -- if the product is coded
around the wrong processes for its intended use, or its design is ignorant
of common methods, it will be awkward to use in the way it is most commonly
used. Our goal is also to make sure the obscure users are protected; these
are the guys doing something "slightly different" at 3am before a
career-making presentation. And as people who know both technology and
users, we're a bridge between product creation (through sensible design, and
not passing on archaic paradigms in updated form) and UI creation (through
sensible design according to the tasks for which it will actually be used,
not marketing speak or archaic paradigms).

The above barely says what I hoped it would, and it's a book in itself. I
recommend anyone thinking along these lines to ready Grady Booch and
Christopher Alexander, who are two advocates of both user-based and
design-centric thinking. These topics, like data containership (XML, et al)
have been with us for some time but are still at a nascent stage of
My goal is to bring them together into a more powerful role for technical
communicators, where we can have positive impacts on design and user
experiences as well as generate usable documentation, which is a goal in

--- Gordon McLean <Gordon -dot- McLean -at- GrahamTechnology -dot- com>

> Fascinating stuff and I completely agree.
> Chris - can you clarify what you mean when you say "user-advocate,
> design-centric viewpoint".
> I presume you are referring to the 'non-writing'
> parts of being a technical
> writer, the times when you sit with the developers and annoy and
> hassle them because the "user wouldn't do it like that"?
> It's funny reading these emails, as I've always presumed that the role
> of technical writing isn't really about 'writing' all that much (these
> days) and is why I've pushed to change job and team titles away from
> "writing" or "publications" to "communications". It's a small thing,
> but I think it breaks the "document monkeys" label a lot of people
> still have in their heads.

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RE: Tech Writing a Growing Field?: From: Chris Borokowski

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