Technical Skills and Technical Writers

Subject: Technical Skills and Technical Writers
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 3 May 1995 20:25:34 PDT

>I frankly don't agree that such knowledge is necessary to be a good
>technical writer. Could it be useful? Yes, of course. Do you have to know
>such information to be a good tech writer? I don't think so. I write
>software manuals (along with On-line Help and training materials), and I
>have never read one line of code. Yet I am able to write useful user manuals
>for both administrators and end-users.

I don't see any dissonance here. Technical writers can write original
manuals from scratch on any topic they understand. If you can drive
well, you can write an owner's manual for a car. If you are a
mechanic, you can write the shop manual. If you're a quick study, you
can become a driver or a mechanic on the job, though you might run
over a few people before you get good at it.

You have to have the same level of understanding that the user is
supposed to have, once he's done reading your manual. Thus, user's
manuals for mass-market software have few technical prerequisites,
while user's manuals for advanced software development tools require
that you know something about programming.

If you don't understand how to use the product yourself, you can hardly
write a manual about it. You need a co-author, or, more likely, you
need to put yourself in an editorial role, and find someone who
understands how to use the product (or can learn) to be the author.

-- Robert
Robert Plamondon * Writer * robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (408) 321-8771
4271 North First Street, #106 * San Jose * California * 95134-1215
"Writing is like plumbing -- even people who know how to do it will
pay top dollar to keep their hands clean."

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