New to tech-writing, or thinking about starting? The key to success is recognising that tech-writers are a necessary evil.
Tech-writers are necessary because someone has to write user doco. The programmers and managers sure as hell don’t want to. This is actually part of reason that you’re evil, too. In my experience, most programmers and managers think that they could write manuals if they wanted to… they just don’t want to. They might not write all “flowery” like tech-writers, but what they write is correct.
Unfortunately, that’s quite often all that’s important to programmers and managers. There is a feeling within software environment that accuracy = quality. Audience analysis, doco readability, consistency, usability, active and passive voice, commas in a list of three or more items… All of these things are relatively unimportant to everyone but tech-writer. Oh… and user.
In a world where accuracy is all important, a lot goes over head of dummy. I don’t know if it’s intellectual snobbery, but programmers and managers seem to think that if they understand it, so should user. It doesn’t matter whether or not they do… they SHOULD! Stupid users! Maybe it’s geek’s ultimate revenge…
Your document can be 100% accurate, but if audience can’t read it, you’ve wasted your time.
So why doesn’t anyone acknowledge this? They do! That’s weird part. In theory, everyone agrees with you, it’s just in practice that you find yourself out in cold. I don’t know why this happens. Maybe it’s because most of these guys have never done tech-writing.
So tech-writers spend too long worrying about unimportant things. And they bother programmers and managers with unimportant things. But they’re necessary things. Otherwise why would you be employed. Maybe absence of simple logic short circuits their brains. Who knows?
What we can get out of this is that there’s a feeling that tech-writers waste time, and as a result, they’re pretty much at bottom of heap in software world. I think a good analogy is way some rich see poor. Dirty little creatures… if only we could do without them…
But there is an up-side. I don’t want you thinking it’s all bad.
Being at bottom of heap has its advantages. You can go unnoticed for years if you want. If you haven’t seen movie, Office Space, you should hire it. There’s a little ferrety bloke in that who was “let go” years ago. Problem is, no one ever told him, and because of a glitch in payroll he still got paid. No one ever noticed.
Being a tech-writer’s a bit like that.
When I was managing doco teams, my favourite saying was “All we have to do is manage their expectations and our commitments”. Because programmers and managers resign themselves to fact that they don’t know what’s going on in doco team, there’s sometimes a temptation to slacken off. Don’t give in to this temptation!!! If you ever get caught, doing it, it’ll be like boy who cried wolf – they’ll never believe your estimates again!