Re: Tech-writing (kinda wordy)

Subject: Re: Tech-writing (kinda wordy)
From: Betsy Maaks <bmaaks -at- FRAME -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 27 Jul 1995 10:10:02 CDT

At 13:30 7/26/95 MDT, you wrote:

>The digest of July 26, 1995 included a post regarding a job for a senior
>tech-writer at Novell, in Utah. It required knowledge of C and the ability
>to read and understand source code. Is that something tech-writers do?

You'd be surprised at the degree of technical knowledge requested by
employers. It is my perception that tech writing was originally done by SMEs
who were charged with both developing and writing. Unfortunately, it was
found that "people on the inside" (i.e., developers) didn't understand the
point of view and needs of those on the "outside" (i.e., users). Does anyone
remember the old DOS 1.0 manuals? It was a frustrating guide geared for
programmers (like the authors), not users (who were not all programmers).
Anyone remember the "little yellow bird" version of the manual? Someone
restructured the document to reflect task-oriented steps, and used a little
yellow bird as a "pointer" throughout. It was more user-oriented and
appealing. It was determined that programmers and scientists/engineers were
not good writers (couldn't relate to their audience?) and so tech writing (a
sorta form of journalism) started growing. Is the profession returning to
the days where SME=writer?

I think that SMEs may be distrustful of tech writers' abilities and skills.
It is my opinion that "they" believe that, because they spent 5 years at
college learning all the technical knowledge they know, a skilled tech
writer can't _POSSIBLY_ understand what they know, certainly can't
efficiently interview them for this information, and can't write this
information clearly and accurately for the great "uninitiated." I worked for
three years with Engineers (can you tell?) and while MANY of them were very
friendly and helpful, there were the few unhelpful to whom I had to prove
over and over again that I was worth my salt. Then, even if what I wrote was
accurate, in their opinion I may not write ENOUGH information (that's
another thread).

Now, I understand that if I'm writing programmers' guides, I need to know C
and source code. I generally write user-consumables, which have included not
only software manuals, but also technical and maintenance manuals for
complex hardware/software systems. I have been thinking about taking a C
programming class or two, just to bone up on these skills. Because while
there are still jobs out there that don't require these skills, it doesn't
hurt to have a full quiver. Diversity, adaption and new technology...this is
what we're in for, fellow techwhirlers, and boy, what a ride it's going to be!

Please address comments directly to my email, and I will gladly share a
compendium of comments with the rest of the "techwhirld."

Having fun (writing proposals now),

Betsy Maaks

The opinions expressed here are definitely my own.

Betsy Maaks + Frame Technology Corp.
312-266-3208 + Advanced Products
bmaaks -at- frame -dot- com + 441 W. Huron Street
+ Chicago, IL 60610


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