TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: couple of questions From:Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET> Date:Wed, 8 Nov 1995 19:57:00 EST
>>We're under fire at work. Suddenly our boss thinks that tech writers
>>ought to be able to read C and do telephony scripting using C
>>commands. He says that he and the president of our company think that
>>"most tech writers ought to be capable of this." Is this true? The
>>engineers who are currently helping us (two tech writers) say they've
>>never known a tech writer who can write these scripts, but I'm
>>wondering if there is something I don't know about the rest of the
>>tech writers out there!
>>I have seen books like "Teach Yourself C in 21 days" --- has anyone
>>tried this and how helpful was it? I'm willing to buy the book with
>>the thought that I might at least become knowledgeable about C,
>>though I do not entertain any thoughts of becoming a C programmer.
>>Anybody care to jump into the midst of what I suspect is more
>>political than practical at our company? I need to know...bad news or
Jane, I agree that it's beneficial to most tech writers to know some C code,
if only to talk intelligently with programmers and developers about
"functions" and "arguments." Still, very few tech writers of my acquaintance
can write passable C code. It's not their job, nor their joy. The tech
writer's job is as the "first user," the person who translates the
bewildering into the intelligible. That's what we're mostly trained to do,
since fully half of our number have English degrees. Most of our
responsibility is to the user, which means we're more interested in the
interface than in the coding. While a rudimentary knowledge helps, it isn't
essential unless the writer is deeply involved in documenting system
I've heard the same sorry story more than this one time, that tech writers
must be able to "read code." Why? Modern coding encompasses thousands or
even millions of lines of code, often generated by 4GLs that render no
comment lines. Even developers have troubles following complex coding paths.
Why are we expected to do it?
I suspect it's because managers are unaware of what we do for a living and
when it comes time to evaluate how well we're doing our jobs, they have no
handholds. Please tell your management that some other measurements must be
found to properly evaluate your performance, and to evaluate your value to
the company. My gut, however, tells me that you're in dire straits when your
management whips up this sort of a whirlwind; it's indicative of deeper
insecurities and problems within the corporate corpus. Best of luck, Jane.
Simply Written, Inc.
Technical Documentation and Training