Fw: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?

Subject: Fw: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?
From: "Tim Altom" <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com>
To: "TechDoc List" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 20 Dec 1999 17:33:03 -0500

My partner Jerilynne and I used to argue about this constantly. That is,
until we got married and had to live together.

In my mind, the need for a technical background is much greater if the
writer must work in machinery. That's because machinery and its operations
make little concession for operator ease. The machinery controls may be
simplified with automation, but you often have to possess a technical
mastery to even talk with operators, engineers, and like personnel. I have a
devil of a time finding local contractors who can write manuals about
robotics, CNC machinery, and similar subjects. When an engineer blurts that
"this thing uses G-codes", he doesn't want to spend a week teaching the
G-codes to the writer.

I think it's different in software, which by and large hides its innards
intentionally and focuses on the interface. Most software isn't written by
technos for technos, but by technos for ordinary mortals. Hence, the
software's major documented features are screens, windows, buttons, and so
forth, easily explained by somebody who can't define "ampere". Of course,
sometimes the subject matter of software is essential, as in many enterprise
packages for management or finance, for example. It's often hard to write a
manual for a finance package without any knowledge of financial concepts.
But even if you could benefit from being an MBA in that circumstance, you
don't need to be a programmer.

That's not to say that programming knowledge is superfluous. Nay, nay. I've
often gotten much cooperation out of programmer-SMEs by schmoozing with them
and sympathizing with their problems. But lack of programming knowledge
won't keep a writer from functioning in a software environment.

Tim Altom
Simply Written, Inc.
Featuring FrameMaker and the Clustar Method(TM)
"Better communication is a service to mankind."

----- Original Message -----
From: <"Alan D. Miller"@educate.com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Sent: Monday, December 20, 1999 12:58 PM
Subject: Re: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?

> Tony Markatos wrote (in response to Horace Smith's comment: "Technical
> Writer is two words. If you aren't technical, how can you write
> about something technical?"):

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