Thursday, May 17, 2007

Where Did Technical Writing Go?

Why we don't see many technical writing companies anymore ...

"It is at the 54th Annual Conference of the Society of Technical Communicators, this week in Minneapolis, where I’m getting a glimpse into what I believe to be the demise of technical writing.

Technical writing was born of the post-war fifties, amidst a heavy push in technological industrialization. Factories were mass producing goods at a tremendous rate, for consumer, industrial, commercial, and military use. These goods were taking advantage of the new sciences, which brought forth new capabilities and features.

In these early days, human factors and ergonomics were not for consideration in the product development process. Making the product work at all was difficult enough. The product developers expected, having made the investment in the technology, the user would take time to learn to use the device properly, starting with reading the manual.

Thus, the profession of technical writing came into its own, as a way to shift the responsibility of usability from the development process to a post-development documentation effort. Any complexity was “written up in the manual” for all to read.

Translating complexity into a manual was a difficult skill, but one suited for english majors, playwrights, and poets. Since it was a difficult skill, salaries were higher than other jobs for liberal arts graduates, so it attracted some very talented folks.

In the sixties and seventies, we saw a huge explosion of technology, much of it exceptionally complex. This made documentation creation even more important. Tight development schedules and the need for clear documentation put demands on the profession in new ways. The skills for producing clear documentation quickly became highly valued.

In the eighties, we saw the advent of personal computers. Ironically, as the size of the technology decreased, the size of the documentation was growing. (The documentation Digital Equipment Corporation’s MicroVAX, for example, weighed three times the hardware it described and required an entire palette for delivery.)"    (Continued via UIE Brain Sparks)    [Usability Resources]

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