Time to Go Home
By pauldavies on Oct 22, 2007
One of my frustrations as a career technical writer is the need from time to time to defend technical writing as a profession. The argument against technical writing as a profession usually goes along the following lines:
Anybody can write, so why do we need technical writers? Why can't the engineers write the documentation?
My usual response is to explain that the value that a professional technical writer adds to the documentation enhances a corporation's bottom line through:
- Greater satisfaction for users
- Lower support costs
- Lower translation costs
To provide these benefits, the documenation usually has to be clear, consistent, and user-focused. In my experience, clarity, consistency, and user focus are most easily attained by following an agreed set of editorial guidelines to assure the quality of the documentation. That's why I am such a strong advocate of style guides such as the Sun Editorial Style Guide, from which both Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry and the Documentation Style Guide for OpenSolaris are derived.
Earlier today, I was discussing with a fellow technical writer how lowering the barrier to publication might affect documentation projects on which we'll be working in the future. In the course of this discussion, I observed that I am beginning to feel like one of the last examples of a rare and exotic species that is being hunted to extinction. The other writer remarked that I certainly was a dinosaur. When I asked why a dinosaur, the other technical writer replied that it was because of my insistence on grade A documentation when grade C documentation is good enough.
After that conversation, I realized that it might be time to fold up my tent, go home, and find something else to do. If technical writers can't stand up for their own profession, nobody else is going to do it for them.