Sunday, April 1, 2012

Technical Writing


Technical Writing
Technical writing is the presentation of information that helps the reader solve a particular problem. Technical communicators write, design, and/or edit proposals, manuals, web pages, lab reports, newsletters, and many other kinds of professional documents.

While technical writers need to have good computer skills, they do not necessarily have to write about computers all their lives. "Technical" comes from the Greek techne, which simply means "skill".

Every profession has its own special specialized forms of writing. Police officers, lawyers and social workers all write specialized reports -- and someone has to learn, perform, critique, and teach each one. Every major politician hires staff members to design, administer, and analyze surveys -- and to write the secret reports that get leaked to reporters. Somebody has to design tax forms and the accompanying instruction books, assembly instructions for toys, and scripts for product demonstrations or multimedia presentations.

For a large project, a technical writer may work with a graphic designer, an interface designer, several computer programmers, and a staff of freelance writers to design a huge web site. For a small project, or for a small company, the tech writer may be expected to do all of the above, all alone.

The first rule of technical writing is "know your audience." Writers who know their audiences well are in a position to suggest and implement solutions to problems that nobody else identifies.  Whenever one group of people has specialized knowledge that another group does not share, the technical writer serves as a go-between. But technical writers are not just translators, accepting wisdom from experts and passing it on unquestioningly; they also are in the business of generating truth, by choosing what gets written, and for whom, with the full knowledge that later readers will depend on the accuracy of what has been written. 

Technical editing may involve working with brilliant researchers and scientists, who may be world-class experts in fluid dynamics or swine reproduction, but who may not know a paragraph from a participle. Some of these will be eternally grateful for your help, and others may resent your interference.

Good technical writers are also good teachers. They excel at explaining difficult concepts for readers who will have no time to read twice. Technical writers have an excellent eye for detail. They know punctuation, syntax, and style, and they can explain these rules to authors who need to know why their drafts need to be changed.

Although they typically work on their own for much of the time, they also know how to coordinate the collaborative work of graphic artists, programmers, marketers, printers, webmasters, and the various "subject matter experts" (SMEs), who know all the answers but have never bothered to write them down anywhere

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