Re: Non-technical technical writers

Subject: Re: Non-technical technical writers
From: Chantel Brathwaite <brathwaitec -at- cacctus -dot- net>
To: dana -at- campbellsci -dot- com
Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2012 12:16:07 -0500

I don't quite understand it either, but I can think of several reasons why
this might happen. In the position that I'm in now, the system is composed
of many different subsystems, each that is developed by other companies.
While I've been learning quite a bit, I remain a novice in some areas
simply because of the size and scope of the system (and also because the
technologies that are used are not widely used - so while there is
documentation, there isn't a lot of it). It is not like I can take this
equipment home and play with it or use it in different ways because of the
nature of the equipment. I can work with some of the hardware,
but skillful use requires doctrine-specific knowledge. I'm definitely
working on obtaining all of this - doctrine-specific knowledge as well as
technical kowledge, but it takes a while to become a subject matter
expert. No one person really knows the entire system in depth - both the
doctrine side as well as the technology side. So, if a writer is fairly new
and is assigned to a project like this one, to survive initially he might
have to function more as an editor than as a tech writer.

I think too that sometimes tech writers underestimate themselves because
they measure their "tech savviness" against that of an engineer or
developer who spent 4 - 6 years of education honing their craft and several
years working on the same software project. In reality, the writer might
be a 5 or a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, but they might rate themselves much
lower.

To compound the issue, sometimes in technical environments, tech writers
are treated as if they CAN'T learn the technology. I can't tell you how
many times an engineer has said "Don't worry, I'll give you the
information." Yeah, right. If I waited for that, the manual would be five
pages long. Any tech writer worth their salt knows that there are usually
many, many details that are often overlooked or not thought about. You
have to get your hands on the technology, talk with the engineers, ask lots
of questions, do background research, try things out ... you have to do all
of these things to produce quality documentation.

There are some writers who feel this is just another writing gig and are
comfortable "making things pretty" and getting paid quite well to do that.
They might be in the field, but might not necessarily plan to stay. They
might not be interested in technology, but can function quite competently
as interviewers. And some projects are adequately served by writers who
work this way, more is not demanded of them.

Some writers also focus more on end user and end user training where
knowing the underlying technology is important, but perhaps not quite as
important as knowing the audience, their needs and expectations, and how
the software functions. I personally still think that technological
knowlege is important for people who perform this role, but probably not in
the same way that it might be for a person who writes the API for
the software.

I do agree that the "technical" part of technical writer is extremely
important in that it broadens the range of the writer and typically
improves the quality of the documentation.


Chantel Brathwaite
Techical Writer
Riptide Software


On Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 11:34 AM, Dana Worley (MVP/JB) <dana -at- campbellsci -dot- com
> wrote:

> I find it interesting that on a list of technical writers, there are many
> people who say they rate on a scale of 1 to 3 when it comes to being
> technically savvy. I further find interest in comments that boil down to
> "my company produces Android apps, but I have no desire to learn about
> Android". How can you write documentation that will be useful to your users
> if you have no experience with the technology?
>
> I know technical takes on all forms, so perhaps many are technical in a
> particular field while being Luddites in most others, but it seems to me it
> would behoove any technical writer to try to be at least a little familiar
> with "technology".
>
> It reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman a few months ago at a
> seminar. She introduced herself as a technology writer, but later told me
> she knew nothing about technology. I file that in the category of "things
> that make you go, 'huh'".
>
> Dana
>
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Follow-Ups:

References:
Non-technical technical writers: From: Dana Worley (MVP/JB)

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