Technical Writing vs. Software Design

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Vesa Purho
Nokia Networks

Lately, I have been thinking about how one could compare the skills needed in technical writing to those in software design. I guess it is not news to you that technical writers are not often appreciated by upper management, who think that being a technical writer does not take much skill and that they can easily subcontract skilled writers. On the other hand, we know that being a good technical writer requires certain skills and that those skills are hard to learn and master. But how can we make management understand?

Perhaps an analogy would work here the best. Knowing C++ or Java is not the same as knowing English. From the customer’s point of view, badly written code does not matter if the program does what it is supposed to do, but poorly written and organised text does matter even if the text contains all the facts.

Comparing technical writing to writing code is not appropriate. Technical writing involves more than knowing English. Technical writers must understand the product and the users of the product and design the information so that the users get the information they need, when they need it, in a form that enables them to use the product in an efficient way, thus making them more productive. To me, it seems that the technical writer’s work more closely resembles the work done by a system designer or product manager, who also needs to understand the users’ needs and specify the product to meet those needs.

Explaining the work of the technical writer to management might help them to understand the value of good technical writers and the difficulties related to subcontracting them instead of having them in house.

Note: This article is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or practice of Nokia Networks.

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