Re: Programming Tools -- How Prevalent Are They?

Subject: Re: Programming Tools -- How Prevalent Are They?
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 31 May 1996 08:27:19 -0500

>>I recently saw an employment ad for a Technical Writer in the Boston Globe,
>>from a compamy that develops Internet courseware. The ad sought candidates
>>with experience using Visual Basic, Lotus Notes, Perl, and C/C++
>>programming. Writing ability was not cited as a requisite skill.

>>This prompts a question: How prevalent is the use of programming tools --
>>such as Visual Basic, Perl, Java, C/C++ -- among us folks that call
>>ourselves "technical writers?" Specifically, do many of you folks use tools
>>such as these on a regular basis, as part of their work?

>>John Alciere
>>Whittaker Xyplex
>>Littleton, MA

I use Visual Basic extensively. The ad you are citing sounds like a
position for a writing programming guides. As far as sentence
construction, punctuation, prose, and grammar are concerned, programming
skills are of little use. However, the more technical that a Technical
Writer is, the more independent (and employable) they are. A manual on
running a complicated piece of software may be written with perfect
English; however, if the instructions are incomplete, inaccurate, or
inconclusive, how is the user aided?

A Technical Writer who grasps the concepts of the
programming/application of which they are documenting creates less of a
burden on the Engineering staff from whom they need to draw information.
I find that there is a much better chance that Engineers will provide
useful information if you approach them prepared rather than with the
"blank page" journalist/interviewer approach. By knowing some of their
environment, your questions are direct and minimize the chance of

Whereas a Technical Writer is a writer, not a programmer, a basic
understanding of programming concepts enhances the writer's
employability. With the increasing movement to online documents, I find
myself working on methods to use single-source topics across multiple
applications/versions, implementing and troubleshooting
context-sensitivity, developing simple programming code (both for
examples and to capture video files for visual examples of the
application), and so forth. Often, I am one of the first people to run
an application with separate pieces trying to interact.

In my opinion, today's job work environment requires that a writer
spread their skills wide as well as deep. Writing is still the core
skill, the job has expanded to testing, example code, on-line
presentations, animation, hypertext, intra- and inter- net
presentations, single source/reusable files, contact and context
sensitivity, and other requirements that aren't covered in English


_/ Michael Wing
_/ Principal Technical Writer
_/ Jupiter Customization and Educational Services
_/ Intergraph Corporation
_/ 730-7250
_/ mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com

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