Technical Writer in Training: “I get paid to explain things to people”

Well, my first week as a professional writer is in the books! I did a lot of reading and a little bit of shadowing. I immersed myself in learning RoboHelp, I observed as the other members of my team wrote release notes, and I just scratched the surface of the software I’ll be writing help documents for. I got to update an internal document and I felt like a “real” writer when I clicked Publish for the first time.

Two things stood out to me this week.

Number One: There are an awful lot of similarities between librarians and technical writers.

As a librarian, my job was to find answers for people. Matt Shipman beautifully sums up the job of a technical writer as being “paid to explain things to people”. I think the roles of librarians and technical writers are often two sides of the same coin – we find information and distill it into an appropriate medium for the people who need it.

Number Two: It is really frickin’ cool to watch a technical writer at work (at least if you’re an information geek like me).

On Friday afternoon, I watched while a coworker took highly complex information from about five different sources (including notes from the developers and quality control testers, and the software itself) and condensed it into a release note. I wondered if I was making her self-conscious as I looked over her shoulder while she typed, but I was mesmerized by her writing process – typing, going back and changing words, re-ordering sentences, pausing to read and then tweaking over and over again until it was just right. The act of writing does not typically attract an audience – I’m not sure I’ve ever watched someone write anything more complex than a grocery list before – and I felt privileged to observe the creative process.

When she was done, she had a concise, clear paragraph that even a novice like me could understand and apply. I was blown away and I have a new-found appreciation for every manual, help guide, and instruction list I’ve ever read after even this short introduction to the world of technical writing.

I have so much to learn and I can’t wait to do some writing of my own.

*Originally posted on theleastshrew.com*

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