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Technical Writing by Mark Metcalfe, Publications Professional

Hello. My name is Mark Metcalfe and I have been a technical writer and technical writing manager since 1984 when cut and paste meant scissors and tape. A lot has happened in and to the world of technical writing since then. In 1984, most technical writers came from backgrounds like education, biology, English majors. I have a bachelors degree in computer science and there were precious few of us then. It seems that anyone who could show writing prowess could get into the technical writing field. It did not take long for colleges and universities to offer certificates in technical writing. Experience began to build, groups formed, and conferences convened.

The value of technical writing is sometimes difficult for some companies to see (even to this day) because anyone can slap together a description of software. Some people in other functions are very good writers, and some technical writers do little more than warm over product specifications. Regardless, customers evaluate the overall quality of a product, including how well it is documented. When the documentation is well-written and organized, then it performs its job (and most customers take no notice). If the documentation is poorly written or poorly organized, it reflects poorly on the product and can cost the company real money in customer service calls. Most people do not know good documentation when they see it, but almost everyone knows bad documentation.

Today's documentation is being globalized. Due to the high cost of labor and the economic backdraft that led companies to cut US writing staffs, one of my previous employers opened offices in India more than a dozen years ago. Now those offices are primary generators of documentation. India is feeling the pinch from China, Russia, and other places, even in the Technical Writing field, where English is still the primary language for product information.

Technologies have advanced and so have release deadlines for documentation. In 1984, manuals had to be completed and closed for weeks before the software release to be able to manufacture, print, and store the manuals. Today, companies are striving to convert their legacy documentation into rapid-access topics. What is ready at release-time is quick starts and reference material - necessary for early adopters of the software - but writing continues following the release to be ready for the mass adoption of the software. The mass audience needs more in-depth training and easier-to-consume information. Text only is also becoming passe in a YouTube consumer environment.

The Technical Writer (a good one) possesses the skills to organize, prioritize, and convey information, but that person also needs to adapt to new technologies for better, rapid access to just-what-I-need, or just-what-I-want information about a product or service.

I intend to use this blog to document things related to the technical writing field to generate an appreciation for content development in our current time.

Mark Metcalfe

Posted on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 4:42 PM | Back to top

Comments on this post: Technical Writing Blog

# re: Technical Writing Blog
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I know what Mr Metcalf means when he says that people don't recognize good documentation when they see it, but most of us recognize the bad stuff. I would love to see examples of Mr Metcalf's documentation. I read so many comments these days that are full of misspelling and clumsy grammar. I have even seen them in internal company e-mails from managers who should have a better grasp of the English language.
Left by Bob Winegart on Jun 10, 2009 6:56 PM

# re: Technical Writing Blog
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The occasional typographical error is forgiveable in email (depending on the message - official notices should be clean); we all commit errors and what we see on the screen is sometimes not what is actually there. (For example, did you know that you can decipher word that are mixed up but have the first and last letters in place? ("It's ture bceause yuor biran ublcrsanmes the lteetrs.")

I will show some of my documentation examples - in time. For now, I want to discuss the principles, and I'll provide some examples of that.


P.S. Technical Editors are excellent resources that make technical writers even better.

P.P.S. Metcalfe (the way I spell it) has an e on the end of it. :-)
Left by Mark Metcalfe on Jun 10, 2009 9:18 PM

# re: Technical Writing Blog
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Great post! I've read a lot of articles about their job as a technical writer, i truly believe their skills in writing. This is not an easy task. It's nice to know that you spare time of sharing this.
Left by Jusan on Oct 20, 2009 2:04 AM

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