Re: Technical Writing Skills

Subject: Re: Technical Writing Skills
From: Ad absurdum per aspera <JTCHEW -at- LBL -dot- GOV>
Date: Wed, 1 Feb 1995 16:02:57 -0800

To borrow a line I heard somewhere, "The average varies."

Some subjects are more difficult than others -- the guy who
writes the big-dummy manuals for terminal emulators and the
gal in the next cubicle who documents the internals of modems
are both technical writers doing technical writing, but one
of them certainly needs deeper technical knowledge about
more-arcane material.

Some subjects are more familiar to any given writer. Ask me
to write something about fusion energy (actually, there's
somebody here who would like me to do that, but it's 4:30 and
the last meeting turned my brain into cat food and chatting
on the network is about all I can accomplish) and you'll get
something pretty decent. Ask me to write something about
metabolic pathways and I might as well just run an ASCII-
translation script on the old RAND Corporation book of one
million random numbers.

Some audience needs are different than others. Remember the
old joke about engineers -- you ask them for the time and
they tell you how to build a watch? The buyer of the afore-
mentioned dummy guide certainly doesn't need to know how to
handle serial I/O while watching for an escape sequence and
quite probably doesn't want to. But he does need his basic
information to be presented clearly and in a logical fashion
at a beginner's level -- something the engineering-doc writer
might not have a knack for.

And, naturally, it's in the company's best interest to look
for somebody who can write at all levels about everything
they do, and who is currently supporting himself by giving
seminars in the word processing tools that they use, and who
will work for 2/3 of what the guy who just quit was making.

That's where career consultants, resume screening, and Maalox
come into the picture. :)

"Just another personal opinion from the People's Republic of Berkeley"
Disclaimer: Even if my employer had a position on the subject,
I probably wouldn't be the one stating it on their behalf.

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