Non-technical technical writers

Subject: Non-technical technical writers
From: "Michael Hood; SET TECHWR-L NOMAIL" <hoodmp -at- RAPISTAN -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 12 May 1998 13:18:55 -0400

I agree that technical writers need inate curiousity about lots of
technical subjects. My entry into the field 20 years ago happened as a
result of being in the right place at the right time. My background is
chiefly technical (avionics and aviation in general), however I was lucky
enough at the time to have a tolerant manager who spent considerable time
making sure my technical presentation of the material was accurate.

Note that I said "presentation of the material." Without a solid technical
background of the subject matter, I doubt very much that I would have been
as successful as I am at what I do. While an English degree would have
helped, knowing how to read engineering data, sift through drawings and
specifications, actual hands-on experience, and the ability to think like a
technician (knowing how techs work, not how a person inexperienced in the
hands-on arena THINKS they should work), worked awfully well.

I'm noticing several "technical writers" graduating these days have
intimate knowledge on how to use desktop publishing software and a host of
other word processing and graphics packages, yet their writing demonstrates
an inexcusable lack of depth of the subject matter. Most of these
graduates have been brainwashed into thinking they can write about anything
if they have a major in English, a minor is some technical area (business
administration, for example), and a knowledge of computer operation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Knowledge and curiosity is
absolutely essential, of course. But while I'm curious about software, I
would not attempt to write about it. A writer has to know the limits of
their current knowledge on the subject matter and ask whether what you know
is accurate enough to instruct someone it.

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