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What a Tech Writer Really Does (with a tie to We Don't Get No Res pect)
Subject:What a Tech Writer Really Does (with a tie to We Don't Get No Res pect) From:Jason Willebeek-LeMair <jlemair -at- ITEXCHSRV2 -dot- PHX -dot- MCD -dot- MOT -dot- COM> Date:Thu, 12 Nov 1998 09:48:18 -0700
Do Tech Writers really just write books? (or online help, web pages, man
pages, or whatever)?
No. That is just a side effect. What we really do is provide information.
InfoSphincters is the term I lovingly refer to ourselves by (a recent
Intercom used the term InfoWrangler).
What does that mean, though? Do I just pretty up engineering docs?
Sometimes, if that is what the customer needs. Do I write books?
Sometimes, if that is what the customer needs. Do I make usability
suggestions for the product? Sometimes, if that is what the customer needs.
I find that I get a lot of respect from my co-workers in the marketing,
sales, and engineering organizations within the company. But, that is
because I have defined myself not as the person who writes the manual, but
rather as the person who provides information, both internally and
The real value in technical communication is not producing books (or their
electronic equivalent). The real value is determining what information is
needed, then providing it in a useful form. That information includes not
only how to use the product (external customers), but also how the product
will be used, which is often kept secret from the developers for some reason
You have to make yourself a resource, a font of information. If you define
yourself in that way, you may find a touch more respect coming your way, and
more career opportunities opening up.
Which brings me to another point. As our documentation organization matures
from a book-writing methodology to an information-provision methodology, I
find myself spending less time writing and more time managing information.
I still do a lot of writing, but it is a smaller percentage of my overall
job responsibilities now. Anyone else notice this? What sort of juggling
solutions did you come up with?
I have no opinions, just temporary mental trends.
I reserve the right to have a completely opposite opinion at any time.