RE What makes a good Tech Writer

Subject: RE What makes a good Tech Writer
From: "Glanbrok, Conqueror of Bluntskulls" <conehead -at- OVERTHE -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 30 Aug 1996 13:02:31 -0400

Henry Crews asked:

> ... I was wondering what you all feel makes a good tech. writer. Is it
> a good knowledge of the technical end of writing, ie. grammer and
> punctuation? (frankly there seems to be a lot of debate on the list about
> what is correct and what is not) Or, is it being able to communicate
> what you want to say in a simple and understandable manner?
> (so you violate along standing rule of grammer, as long as the point
> gets across, right) Or, is it somewhere in between?

It would be nice if command of grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. were a
sought-after attribute among tech writers. (Nice for some of us, anyway.)
Sad to say, few managers appreciate the difference between a competent
manual or help file and a polished (dare I say "excellent"?) one. In the
land of the colorblind, nobody pays extra for Desert Mist.

IMO, the difficulty in identifying what makes a good tech writer is the
fact that nitwit managers are the ones whose votes count. Three jobs ago
(I'm a contractor, natch), my manager asked me how much time would be
needed to add summaries of each topic's related topics in a Winhelp
project. Since nothing had been written yet, the answer was something like
"more than a little". "Wrong answer!" he hollered. By his lights, a good
tech writer is one who can generate 25% more work than originally planned
without distending the schedule at all.

On a more recent job, I and another contractor (I'll call her "Martha")
were given the task of updating and "fixing" a stack of manuals. One of my
observations was a bulleted list of phrases that nonetheless had periods,
as if they were sentences. Suggesting to Martha that only sentences should
have periods, I was startled to hear the reply:

"This isn't an English class! I think it's fine!"

Which illustrates the fact that not even tech writers (or failed system
auditors masquerading as tech writers) agree on what makes a good tech

Or perhaps Henry wanted to start a poll.

A Good Tech Writer's priorities are:

A Timeliness
B Accuracy
C Thoroughness (Completeness)
D Polish
E Beautiful Design
F etc.

Shall we all cast a vote?

Glanbrok, Conqueror of Bluntskulls
conehead -at- overthe -dot- net

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