Re: Should software documenters learn to read code?

Subject: Re: Should software documenters learn to read code?
From: "Michael West" <mbwest -at- bigpond -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2009 21:51:11 +1100

>Should technical writers who do software documentation -- which is most
>of us -- learn to read the actual code of the software they're

It all depends on whether you're really doing what you wrote; that is
"documenting software." If you're "documenting software" (whatever that
means) then I suppose it might be useful to learn the code.

But if you're doing what I suspect most of us are actually paid to do, that
is, to help users learn how to USE the software to get work done, then I
don't see much use in learning code.

Usually there are developers around who can answer questions about how the
program behaves in odd situations, if you can't tell by simple observation.
If you have no other source of information about how the software works then
you're screwed, I guess. You gotta do what you gotta do.

But in the majority of cases I'd place a much higher priority on getting to
know your users and asking them what kinds of information are most useful to
them, and in getting to know how the software actually works from the
end-user's perspective. You need to do what they do in order to discover
what they need to know. And you can spend any extra time left over learning
to write English clearly and concisely. That's a lifetime study. Or learning
about graphics and publication design.

If "software" needs to be "documented", my advice is to let tekkies do it.
Let tech writers help users.

Mike West


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