Tech Writing Old Skool

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December 2, 2010 at 10:40 pmCategory:Writing

(This is my Christmas present to anyone who remembers using PageMaker for creating docs.)

Hist! Ho! Friends! Do ye long for days of past glory in technical communication? When ye were still called a “technical writer”, not this fancy-dancy “technical communicator” foppery? Said title change being only used to keep raises low?

Those days when you made or broke a product? When vice-presidents saluted when you walked by? When the CEO would stand by your cubicle, digging his toe into the ground, twisting his hat in his hands, but not daring to say a word so as to not interrupt your creative flow while you were finishing up the documentation?

Then, what happened? Everything went bad. Developers and product managers figured out how to build a (mostly) self-documenting interface. Applications got smaller: Web apps and then smart phone apps. As functionality got smaller in scope, so did the need for documentation.

Terror! From the darling of the executive suite, you fell to somewhere just above the janitorial staff. “A cost centre,” they muttered behind you. “Excess fat to be trimmed,” and then they smiled when you spun your chair around in your cubicle and looked at them standing right there. “Something wrong?” they asked. “Did you lose a font?” And then they walked off, arm in arm, laughing, while you in frustration and humiliation ran your spell checker again and again.

Do not despair, friends. Run, do not walk, to the nearest manufacturer of high-end digital SLRs (DSLRs) and apply for a job as their manual writer. Yes, you read that a-right. DSLRs.

The interface is the documentation? There are so many knobs and switch positions and tiny icons on the rather small body. Yes, they do have screens, but what kind of screens? Hint: not big ones. Limited functionality? Your average high-end camera owner wants all the functionality your tiny-fingered elves can cram into those electronics and optics.

So, DSLRs are very popular, and somewhat expensive, and (per above) complicated, which means your average buyer wants a lot of explanatory text in front of them. Which someone (psst, it’s you) needs to create. Your average buyer from anywhere in the world! Hello, localisation! Hello, huge project budget! Is that the CEO I see behind you, digging his toe in the ground and twisting his hat?

Yes, just get a job doing documentation at a DSLR manufacturer, and you will be back at the top of the IT heap. But don’t use PageMaker, they don’t make it anymore.