Re: Technical Writers and Programming Skills

Subject: Re: Technical Writers and Programming Skills
From: Kris Olberg <kjolberg -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 14 May 1997 23:36:22 -0500

> From: Mike Collier - SSG <MikeCol -at- SBSERVICES -dot- COM>
> What level of programming knowledge is required of you in your work ?
> For example, are you required to be able to read blocks of code and
> explain what it is doing, and/or do you write code samples for use as
> examples?

Officially, I am now a "software engineer." However, in my past life as a
tech writer, I was expected to be able to do everything from typing to
reading code to unit testing code to performing object-oriented analysis
and design (OOAD) ...

> If you've recently learned a programming language, have you been able to
> learn effectively and apply what you've learned from books of the "Learn
> [whatever] in 21 Days" variety? What other means have you used to learn
> programming?

I found that learning C has given me a superb foundation for learning Java,
C++, and other current tools. I used "Learn C in 21 Days" and found it to
be thorough and appropriate for my learning style. I have gotten my money's
worth out of the book--I continue to use it regularly as a reference.

> What is more important to spend your time on-- developing and refining
> programming skills, or other technical writing skills, such as using
> document production software and writing and editing ?

Knowing code basics is important, but you needn't understand it intimately
to get the information necessary to document the functionality or the user
interface. My recommendation is to spend the most time understanding how
the documentation will be used to solve an information need of end users.
This is paramount. You can write a ton of stuff, but if what you've written
isn't what the readers need, the documentation is useless.

> I have seen some help wanted ads looking to hire technical writers who
> can write user documentation straight from the application's source code
> (I assume without analysis, design or other project documents to use as
> reference). Isn't this asking too much, even of a skilled technical
> writer with modest programming skills? If you've done this, how did it
> go?

I would find this impossible. Understanding how something works is not the
same as understanding how it will be used. The ability to read the code is
not a suitable replacement for analyzing the readers needs.

kolberg -at- actamed -dot- com
kris -at- olberg -dot- com

TECHWR-L (Technical Communication) List Information: To send a message
to 2500+ readers, e-mail to TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU -dot- Send commands
Search the archives at or search and
browse the archives at

Previous by Author: Re: on the fly
Next by Author: Re: hello
Previous by Thread: Re: Technical Writers and Programming Skills
Next by Thread: RoboHELP question: bookmarks

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads