In the world of software development, the developers and user interface designers are the ones who get all the praise when a new or improved product sets sail. The technical writers are almost always left behind on the dock, silently watching their ship sail without them. The sad truth is that you'll never hear a user say, "Wow, this new manual is great and chock full of useful information! Long live the technical writers!" (Although I must admit, it did happen to me only once.)
Who are we?
We are grammatical surgeons, verbal marksmen, and technological gymnasts. We flout the laws of fashion, consider personal grooming optional, and, for our own amusement, we dangle participles. (See what I did there?) We are philosophically spotless in our own minds (and as you may have guessed, a little weird).
Most people in the world would consider themselves lucky if they had only one passion in life. Technical writers have at least two: writing, and technology. If you're an expert in these two disciplines, you my friend, can be a technical writer! (But would you want to be?) We are the people who sit in a dark corner, illuminated only by the glow of our four computer monitors, tirelessly researching and typing away so you, the user, will have no need to call to the other unsung heroes of the software development world, Technical Support. This li'l cartoon helped me verify my occupation as being worthwhile:
What do we do?
- We create the help files for all of our software
- We contemplate every word of every sentence
- We simplify the complex
- We add the informative language used in interface messages (as opposed to the comical ones I would prefer )
- We create documents separate from the help files designed to educate the user. Take a look here for my SAM contributions
- We create knowledge base articles for quick fixes
- We provide interactive help here on thwack
- We write these blog articles
Why are we unsung heroes?
Well, I think we're kind of like the news. You never turn on ye old TV and expect to hear good news all the time. Bad or unexpected news is much more dramatic. That said, if we as technical writers miss something, that misstep is pointed out posthaste by the user. So by default, we're "unsung," as it were. Really, look at all the praise we don't get around the world. Sadly, an absence of complaints is our praise. No one notices you when people aren't complaining, and I suspect that's true for most of the working world (although this guy really likes us)!
I guess we've just been sung.