Re: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?

Subject: Re: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?
From: "Sharon Burton-Hardin" <sharonburton -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "Tracy Boyington" <tracy_boyington -at- okvotech -dot- org>, "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1999 14:55:59 -0800

Actually, I am not assuming that we all write about computers. I really
think, since we all - god, I hope we all! - are writing on computers, must
know how to use our tools. And as someone else pointed out, it is really
handy to know how to add memory when tech support can't do it for a month.
Or how to swap out a hard drive if needed. You don't have to know how to
program the thing, but you better understand how generally it works so that
you can figure out why the Help compiler is reporting it can't find files,
for example. or why Word lost all your formatting from yesterday for the car
user's manual you are writing. Or the policies and procedures you wrote
yesterday. Or whatever.

At one of my first jobs, the system manager was so busy, he just dropped the
computer parts on the floor in my cube and said "Good luck". Fortunately, I
had been building computers for several years and it wasn't a problem.
Another writer started crying when she realized that she was going to have
to plug everything in. Other people took pity and put it together for her.
But she turned out to be the slowest writer with lots of problems that
everyone else had to solve because she was technologically clueless about
the tools she worked with all day long. She was helpless in the face of
technology. She didn't understand it and it scared her. And she was writing
about technology!

Regardless of what you are documenting, you must be technically savvy. We
use the computer all day long. If we can't copy files from a floppy, we have
huge problems! How the hell do these people every back up their computers,
for example? What must they cost their company in support? Why would the SME
ever take them seriously when they are trying to explain other technology?
It is possible to be taken seriously, I guess, but I am making general
statements here.

I never said that writing fast and clearly explaining things wasn't
important. It is. A writer who understands technology in general is going to
be my choice over otherwise equally qualified writers every time. Even to
write about a new technology. They have a grasp of the right questions to
ask and waste less time learning new technology.


Sharon Burton-Hardin
President of the Inland Empire chapter of the STC
Anthrobytes Consulting
Check out!

| Ah, so you're assuming we *all* document computer hardware and software...
| of us don't write about computers at all, you know, and therefore don't
need to
| understand any more than how to use our own copy of Word or Frame or
| (though we're obviously much better off when we *do* know more) since
we're not
| explaining how to use this wonderful bit of technology to our readers. :-)
So it
| goes back to what Win said: we need to be able to learn fast (whether it's
| software or airplanes or viruses or whatever) and explain what we've


Re: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?: From: Tracy Boyington

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