Re: Non-Technical Technical Writers

Subject: Re: Non-Technical Technical Writers
From: Max Wyss <prodok -at- PRODOK -dot- CH>
Date: Sun, 10 May 1998 11:11:20 +0200


of course, my answer was exaggerated, and I intended it to stir up some
dust <g>.

But I do remember one assignment I had, where all I had was the drawing of
a machinery part, and I was supposed to write its assembling/disassembling
instructions, and the specifications for the illustrator on what to include
in the explosion drawing. Main reason for that, the thing was not yet
build, and similar things were not available.

Developers/engineers ... not available. And when, then they had very little
time, so they needed the right questions to be asked.

It did finally work out, and that thing is now disassembled and reassembled

I fully agree with you about the direct contact. In fact, I often require a
direct contact even for translations (which are very often handled by
agencies, some of whom very actively shield the translator from their
client). Such a direct contact does indeed improve the resulting

Max Wyss
PRODOK Engineering AG
Technical documentation and translations, Electronic Publishing
CH-8906 Bonstetten, Switzerland

Fax: +41 1 700 20 37
e-mail: mailto:prodok -at- prodok -dot- ch or 100012 -dot- 44 -at- compuserve -dot- com

Bridging the Knowledge Gap


> Jason Willebeek-LeMair wrote:
> 1. Do you need to be an electrical engineer to tell someone how to use
>their VCR?
> 2. Do you need to be an expert in networking protocols and programming to
>explain to users how to use their e-mail programs?
> Max Wyss replied:
> 1. Yes, when all you get is a wiring diagram and a dump of the ROM.
> 2. Yes, when all you get is source code.
>If someone asks you to write instructions for a VCR and all you get is a
>wiring diagram and a dump of the ROM, you should explain to that person that
>you cannot do the job properly unless you get more information. Maybe
>somebody can find the Eject button by studying the diagrams for a day or so,
>but that is not very efficient. You must do whatever you can to contact the
>product developers and ask how it works. If nobody gives you more
>information, maybe, you should refuse the assignment (depending on the
>circumstances). This - too - is a part of a technical writer's job.
>Personally, I like the technical approach. I enjoy finding things out by
>myself, rather than asking somebody else. When I write online Help I am
>always tempted to go into the source code whenever I something is not
>immediately clear. Sometimes that works, but asking the programmer is
>usually better because:
>1. It is usually faster.
>2. You get extra information (for example: "That feature is designed to
>prevent this or that problem" or "That feature will be replaced in our next
>3. It helps keeping ongoing communication.
>4. You avoid the risk of misinterpreting the source code.
>5. I think it is the responsability of the product specialist to provide you
>with correct information. If you bypass the specialist, the mistake will be
>I am not totally against reading of the design diagrams or source codes.
>Technical knowledge can help. If you cannot get the right person, reading
>the source codes can be faster or more reliable than asking questions. You
>can use it for verification. Sometimes, it is all you've got.
>The point was illustrated by a teacher of mine (Jos van Graas). He showed us
>a bad example of technical writing in the form of a route description to a
>local company's office. The company's name and some other details were not
>legible on the photocopy we received. Our first homework assignment was to
>rewrite the route description. Most of us guessed the parts that were not
>legible and made beautiful maps with very clear descriptions. The next
>morning he told the class that all our products were incorrect or
>incomplete. When we argued he had not given us sufficient information, he
>reminded us that he did tell us to call him if there were any problems.
>Nobody had called him. Of course, he had pulled us a trick, but I'll never
>forget the lesson.
>Johan Lont
>Technical Author
>Baan Development BV

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