Re: The Tech in Tech Writer

Subject: Re: The Tech in Tech Writer
From: John Garison <john -at- garisons -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 15 Aug 2006 14:27:23 -0400

I dunno ... I guess you have to define "technical" and that gets a little dicey.

In my version of reality, I would say I'm sort of technical. I mean, I have a degree in English and Philosophy, but on the other hand, I've been working in software development organizations for over 30 years, and cut my teeth on operating systems, languages, and system utilities. I haven't written a line of code since the 70's, and even then, not too many.

So - would I pass myself off as technical? Maybe, maybe not.

HOWEVER, I *do* know a whole heck of a lot about learning a new application with an eye toward documenting it. As I tell my tech comm students, the five skills all good writers have are:

* Conceptualization (the ability to pick up the big picture very
* Investigation (the ability to flesh out and expand my big picture
through any means possible)
* Assimilation (the ability to "own" the information inside my head)
* Organization (the ability to figure out the best way to explain it
to others)
* Regurgitation (the ability to get the words out and onto 'paper')

I can learn almost any application in a short amount of time. After you've seen a few dozen, you start to see the common components even if they do very dissimilar things. You either learn how to learn fast, or you become ineffectual. I learned. On my current project, I managed to learn it enough to turn out a basic but complete help system (first draft level of completeness) in just two weeks so that it was able to be sent to an early level adopter.

So ... are you technical may not be the right question to ask. Are you able to learn something well and quickly enough to ask intelligent questions and to give good feedback? Are you able to sort out a myriad of incomplete and half-implemented pages and still keep them in some sort of order? Are you able to make sense out of chaos? Those may well be more important attributes.

The second aspect of all this is that someone who is technical may make all sorts of assumptions that may or may not be appropriate. Is the audience technical? If so, a "technical" writer can skip a lot of the preliminaries and get onto the meat of the issue. If the audience is not so technical, then a less-than-technical writer may be a better choice for this project as they would possibly be better able to relate background information, etc. than someone who takes such knowledge for granted.

I think it was John Posada who recently said that a good writer should be able to write up to an audience level as well as down to a less technical audience. I grant that as ideal, but rarely see it in practice.

Anyway, that's my 2¢,

John Garison

elizabeth j allen wrote:

In light of the recent discussion surrounding breaking into the tech
writing field, allow me to share the following:

I recently started a new job with a multi-national semiconductor company.
I was introducing myself to yet another coworker today when he asked me if
I had a technical background.

"We've had several tech writers here who didn't have a technical
background, and, oh man, they just couldn't catch on." The shake of his
head, slump of his shoulders, and expression on his face told the story.
These writers were unable to grasp the technical dimensions of the
material they were supposed to be writing about.


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The Tech in Tech Writer: From: elizabeth j allen

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