Oct 4, 2010

What is a Technical Writer?

When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I am a technical writer. Their response, more often than not, "What in the heck is a technical writer?"

Oh my, where do I begin? We are English people, but are not to be confused with literary English majors. We are writers, but not creative writers. We are grammarians, but not poets. We are technical writers and editors who write and edit just about anything.

Technical writing is such a broad field that it literally covers every area of expertise in the professional world from computers to biotechnology and everything in between. By definition, technical writers specialize in formal writing to communicate technical, business, or educational information. But what does that mean? What is it we do specifically? I chose 11 zany quotes to explain what technical writers do. Why 11? Because 10 is so over done!

1. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” –John Keats

We are not advertisers or creative writers; we write the non-fiction stuff.

2. "To be good is noble, but to teach others how to be good is nobler—and less trouble." –Mark Twain

We write to teach others not only how to do something, but to educate. We write instruction sets, textbooks, operator's mauals, technical support manuals . . . the how tos and the dos and do nots.

3. “Grammar is the logic of speech, even as logic is the grammar of reason.” –Richard C. Trench

Technical writers are the Nazis of grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Because the spelling and grammar checkers do not catch everything, we do.

4. Technical writers "cut a fat pig!"
When it comes to professional documentation, technical writers “cut a fat pig.” No, we are not butchers (although it may seem that way when we edit one’s work), but we really are great at what we do! We avoid idioms because we know that what we write may need translated into foreign languages. Idioms are tricky. They can be taken literally. Can you think of a better way to confuse a person that knows English as a second language?

5. “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” –Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

We are not the experts (Unless we are writing about technical writing). We are the researchers who collect information from existing sources, package that information, and deliver it to an audience.

6. “Discourse on virtue and they pass by in droves, whistle and dance the shimmy, and you've got an audience.” –Diogenes of Sinope

We target a specific audience, analyze the need of the audience, and write to meet that need. If it’s over the head, it won’t be read; if it’s on the ground, it won’t be found.

7. “Information is the currency of democracy.” Thomas Jefferson

We are the architects of information. First we analyze the audience. B, we research the subject. Next, we write our content to meet the needs of our audience. And 4, we design our document for content delivery. Information delivered correctly is gold!

8. “It looks like you can write a minimalist piece without much bleeding. And you can. But not a good one.” –David Foster Wallace

We are minimalist writers. Think Hemingway; less is more. The more we say with fewer words, the less room there is for ambiguity. We anticipate the questions and write to answer those questions before the reader can even think to ask them.

9. “Do you realize if it weren't for Edison we'd be watching TV by candlelight?” –Al Boliska

Technical writers are on top of technology. We are thinking mobile. In today’s world, documents must be written for web, e-readers, smart phones, etc. A good technical writer stays on top of the latest techy trends in their industry.

10. “One man's style must not be the rule of another's.” –Jane Austen
Every profession has its own preferred style of writing. Technical writers can write for them all. We are trained to follow whichever manual of style is required whether it be NASA, Microsoft, Google, MLA, APA, AAA, ASA, Chicago, CSE, . . . . You get the picture.

11. “Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” –William Arthur Ward

And when faced with a challenge or obstacle, a technical writer will adapt and overcome.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there! this is such an informative post. Thank you for sharing. Cheers!

    - The technical writer jobs