Who needs a technical writer?

Everyone can write. So why would anyone need a technical writer?

Most companies have access to sophisticated tools, like:

  • Websites, wikis, and blogs
  • Text processors and desk-top publishing
  • Digital photography and image manipulation
  • Printing and product packaging

Management and developers of a product know everything there is to know about that product. Why go to the trouble and expense of hiring a wordsmith?

User guide for a vegetable cutter

Here’s an example of where a technical writer could have helped in the presentation, sale and support of a product. These instructions are printed on the box containing a tool which produces twirly strings of onion, carrot, or whatever:

Below is a reproduction of the text. I’ve changed it to mixed case for easier reading:

How to use: Before using this cutter, remove all coverage of the onion etc. and cut the both (top & bottom) insert the rod in between the onion. Then place the blade (funner) on the head of rod, so you move round the threads. Handle it round & round, upto the bottom. You will get the round chips, nice & fine. You can make the chips of potatos, radish, carrot, beet, if you do not need the chips with hole, you hold & grip the article beside the rod. And move the funner blade around up to end you will get a nice & beautiful chips like a chain and cut it centrally.

Note: If the blade is not sharp, make it sharp on the grinding stone only on one side as before. And if other diffect or damage, report to our sales agents or dealers. They will help you. If it is not repairable a new set will supply in replacement of the presented set. Thanks: You can purchase at all crockery dealers & shops

Those instructions do have a certain charm. In fact, I bought the vegetable cutter just for the box with the instructions.

I’ve never used the vegetable cutter itself. I’m not sure how to! The trial-and-error approach might be lethal, with something as mission-critical as this tool.

Put a sparkle into your cocktail party. But I’m sure the manufacturers would prefer the tool itself and not the instructions to be the focus of my, and my cocktail party’s, attention.

User guide for a torch battery

Here are some instructions I saw on a torch battery:

Do not misuse

Now, we all agree that brevity is best. But if you say anything, make it meaningful.

Technical writer to the rescue

Here’s how can a technical writer help:

  • We specialise in the organisation of information – things like chunking, consistency, clarity.
  • Presentation and layout are important to us too.
  • We quickly acquire a broad technical overview of a product. This complements the managers’ even broader overview and the developers’ deeper and narrower view.
  • We love what we do 🙂
  • We have a good grasp of the language we use (English or whatever).
  • We have good technical skills, so we can speak the developers’ language too 😉
  • Related things like document management, indexing and choice of medium are part of our portfolio.
  • We know when to call in the specialist e.g. a graphics designer to produce professional images, packaging and layout; or a translator to polish text in a foreign language; or a spellchecker.
  • We know that we can’t rely on ourselves to proofread our own work. Bitter experience has taught us that. In fact, blogging is a bit scary because you write it and put it out there without review.

All shapes and sizes

You get technical writers in all sorts of industries. Some of the best-known areas are:

  • Information technology, especially software development
  • Medical industry
  • Finance, especially online trading
  • Telecommunication

Read Wikipedia’s somewhat whimsical description of our field.

In short

Having a technical writer around is a Good Thing, because it means that other parts of the organisation are free to spend their time on developing, marketing, selling and supporting the products.

Get yours while they’re cheap!

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 12 August 2007, in technical writing. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Classic! I love the lines “in between the onion” and “up to the bottom”! There’s a universe of possibilities! 😉

  1. Pingback: tl;dr | roundCorner

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