What is a Technical Author?

8 January, 2009 at 11:54 am | Posted in Documentation | 1 Comment

When I was asked this question the other day, I explained that there are many types of writers who go by this description. 

Examples include those who write (and sometimes illustrate) technical documents for mechanical and electronic devices, writers of software manuals (and Help systems) for a variety of audiences (developers, analysts, system administrators and end-users) and people who write the instruction manuals for consumer goods and self-assembly products. There’s an excellent blog article Read Rage by David Crystal on the subject of the latter.

What’s the difference between technical authors and creative writers? I think that the difference lies in the question of audience. For the creative writer, I believe that the primary motivation is self-expression: they are often writing mainly for themselves, and just hope that their audience will enjoy what they write. On the other hand, the technical author’s main concern is (or should be!) their audience – what does my reader need to know? What level of understanding will they bring to the subject and hence what do I need to explain at the outset? It’s clear, however, that many documents produced by technical authors do not meet their audience’s needs: as David Crystal says, over a third of people ignore the manual and use trial and error instead.


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