Re: Eng vs Writer

Subject: Re: Eng vs Writer
From: Tamara Peters <1455 -at- MN2 -dot- LAWSON -dot- LAWSON -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 2 May 1995 14:36:00 CDT

I am certainly not trying to categorize all tech writers who do not have
technical backgrounds, but in every tech writing project I've taken on, I've
had to "clean up" after someone who'd never read a line of code. Or taken a
drafting class. Or learned basic electrical wiring schematics, and what a
resistor or capacitor really does to the current and voltage in a circuit.

I have yet to meet an engineer or programmer who was at all impressed with
what these people did. And the user manuals (generally aimed at highly
skilled professionals) were anywhere from Ok to horrid. Simple things, like
where output files go, were often overlooked or wrongly written up,
resulting in "top priority" bugs for the company. Documentation shouldn't
result in bug reports!

Certainly my engineering degree did not qualify me to write. I have taken a
lot of courses in writing and English (even literature!), I attend
seminars/conferences whenever I can, and I read as much as possible. Still,
I think the people I've come across recently with Tech Comm degrees have
some great knowledge that I lack.

I also believe there are issues of breadth vs. depth and audience, which
really determine how much of the "inner workings" of a product the writer
needs to understand. How do you know, for instance, when you've covered a
topic completely? If it is a user interface, you can push the buttons, but a
cursory reading of the code might lead you to a print statement that you'd
never seen. You could then follow up on what made that situation occur. And
if your audience is programmers and developers? How then do you evaluate
your writing?

From: RSMH
To: 1455; TECHWR-L
Subject: Re: Eng vs Writer, BULL, Writ...
Date: Tuesday, 2 May, 1995 4:03PM

Tamara Peters writes;
Won't it be great when Tech Comm programs in universities require enough
SOLID technical classes that entry level writers could actually read and
wire circuits, write and debug a C program, understand basic business
operations such as accounting and human resources, and build a basic motor?

I frankly don't agree that such knowledge is necessary to be a good
writer. Could it be useful? Yes, of course. Do you have to know such
information to be a good tech writer? I don't think so. I write software
manuals (along with On-line Help and training materials), and I have never
read one line of code. Yet I am able to write useful user manuals for both
administrators and end-users. I am not debating that your knowledge helps
in whatever aspect of technical writing that you undertake, but for me, I am
virtually ignorant of such things, yet still can write manuals.

Ron Miller
RSMH -at- AOL -dot- COM

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