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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
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
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
* 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
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¢,
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.