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Definition: technical writer

The person responsible for writing hardware and software documentation, online help, product descriptions and technical definitions. Quite often, the technical writer is given the task of documenting an application at the last minute. There is very little time for a thorough understanding of all the options, let alone time for others to read and edit the material before it is published.

A Necessary Evil
Although technical writing is a skill that takes years to learn, and while some companies do appreciate it, most do not. Technical writers are often given less attention than other professionals in the field. As a result, almost all the documentation we read could be better, and much of it is downright indecipherable. Is it any wonder that even technical people avoid reading manuals at all costs (see RTFM)?

A Note from the Author
Describing technical material is as difficult a job as some of the most complex programming. I know because I have been doing both for more than 60 years. However, bad programming is invisible. As long as the program seems to work, nobody has any idea how many resources are being wasted behind the scenes. Without having programming experience and viewing the source code, no one can know that the app will take ten times longer than it should to make changes later on because of its poor design or lack of documentation.

But, poor writing is very visible... up front... staring you in the face. And, "you" are an expert in judging its quality. If well written, the most complicated material can be brought down to bite-sized chunks that are understandable. If you have to read and reread over and over to make any sense of it, you have the right to call it rubbish. If you find anything in this encyclopedia that is not clear, please email me at alan@computerlanguage.com.