October 8, 2010

What's more important: technical or writer?

Lately I have seen, and heard, a number of discussions of what skills are most important in a technical writer. The conclusion reached in most of these discussions saddens me. It seems that conventional wisdom is that technical skills are considered primary. One recruiter told me that all of the positions she has open are for programmer/writers with an emphasis on programming.
I can see why businesses would want technical writers that are highly technical. It lightens the burden on the engineers because the writers don't ask as many questions. It also means that the writers can do more than just write documentation. They can do QA or possibly code. The business doesn't have to waste as much money on documentation.
Ideally, businesses, and engineers, would like to see technical writers cease to exist. They cost money, ask too many questions, delay delivery dates, and whine about usability issues. The only value they serve is to create a bunch of content that customers demand, but never read.
What I cannot understand is why technical writers believe that technical skills are primary. The "technical" in the title is an adjective describing "writer." The value of a technical writer is that they can take jargon laden technical information from engineers and turn it into something readable by the uninitiated. They can write a process in a way that makes it clear. They can distill complex technical topics into chunks that a user can digest. Writing is the primary skill.
I'm not arguing that some technical skills are not important. My background in software engineering has been invaluable to me. However, it is my writing skills that make me good at my job. I've worked with several technical writers with excellent technical skills who were terrible technical writers. Sadly, they poor quality of their content usually is overlooked because they fit in with the engineers.
Writing first; technical second.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you and am also unhappy about the trend now that sees more emphasis being placed on "technical" and less on "writing".

    Nice article, thanks for writing it! :)