Re: Subset of Technical Writing?

Subject: Re: Subset of Technical Writing?
From: "Mason, Catheryn" <CMason -at- INFINITEC-COM -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 9 Nov 1998 10:51:50 -0600

You will probably get a hundred different answers to your question, but
here is one opinion, anyway.

I consider (and my company considers) what I do now to be "technical
writing" - I create and edit user documentation primarily for telephony
hardware and for the software applications used to provision this
hardware. I also do some "marketing writing" -- taking technical
material, pulling out the most impressive features from a customer's
standpoint, and re-working text and document design so that our techie
stuff has a marketing snap to it. Prior to this job, I did what you are
calling "business writing" -- I wrote, edited, and monitored policies
and procedures for a national home health care organization. I did not
consider that to be technical writing -- partly because I was in the
Quality Assurance department and my larger mission was QA, and partly
because what was required of me was not so much a technical knowledge of
the medical field as a political sense of how to work with the executive
committee while representing the interests of our field staff on policy
issues. Prior to *that* gig, I was a publications editor for a
philanthropy dedicated to environmental protection/education -- I did
not consider that job to be technical writing either, because what was
most important was not that I understood the multiple causes of
endocrine disruption, for example, but that I knew what a general reader
could be expected to understand and how to translate material from a
scientific community to an activist community to a general readership.

All of this is a long and perhaps tedious way to help demonstrate what I
consider technical writing to be -- a job in which you have some sort of
product to test and to market, and where user or "how to" documentation
is essential. I'm certainly no engineer, but it is important that I
have a solid understanding of how our product works and how its
component parts fit together to function as a whole -- I work with
technical information like specifications and powering requirements, I
interview engineers, I talk to field service/customer service staff, I
test out hardware and software as part of the documentation process, and
so forth. When I was doing "business writing" in the medical field, I
was not dealing with technical information on the operation of oxygen
tanks, for example, and I did not have to interview Registered Nurses in
the field to obtain the information I needed to do my job. I would
solicit opinions from time to time, but what was more important was
maintaining a sense of what our organization needed to do to maintain
employee and patient rights, to avoid liability, and to uphold a
standard of care. For me, these are really different thought processes
requiring different work methods.

I'm no expert, certainly, but that's my take on some differences between
technical writing, business writing, educational writing, etc. And as a
"newbie" (I hate that term), don't get discouraged -- as you can see,
some of us have moved around a lot in a variety of fields writing very
different documents for very different audiences designed to serve very
different purposes. Good luck in finding the writing niche that suits

Catheryn Mason, Technical Writer
Infinitec Communications
cmason -at- infinitec-com -dot- com

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