For the uninitiated, technical writing is writing without
fun. For the initiated, technical writing is also writing without fun. If you
have actually met some technical writers and heard what they think is funny, then you will thank the muse that their jokes don't get into
manuals. This is the eternal dilemma of technical writing, because soulless
prose is usually poor communication. Maybe novelists are more expensive to
hire. Anyway, supposedly safe boredom is likely to remain the fate of all who
are condemned to read computer help screens, operations manuals for machines,
business procedures, and the general monotone of information which keeps the
lights on and economies operating. Long distance truck drivers know that
boredom is their highest accident risk. The assembly line mentality of
industrial managers and engineers has a hard time taking that in, but they rule
the modern world.
Technical writing has also been called technical communication and technical
authorship. The profession has been around for at least a century, but the
people who do it have traditionally been anonymous hacks in backrooms. The
cyber revolution has put special demands on their skills and bid their price
up. Some are now even asked to make their prose interesting.
Functional literacy in most industrialized countries hovers around a scary 50%.
Competent writers are a fraction of that. The percentage of the population who
can write with coherence, precision and skill is desperately small (even
amongst the so-called managerial classes). The number of people who can both
understand technology and explain it to the unwashed masses is even smaller.
You might think that technical writers, having such a saleable skill, could be
megastars. That's not the way the world works. They don't pose in Italian silk
suits, or wow crowds with booming amps. It is probably fair to say that most of
the people who read their stuff hate reading, but have to get a job done. They
rarely think about the writer, except to curse an error or an omission. Technical
writing then is not the place to seek a Nobel Prize. Nevertheless, it does
offer a challenge and a reasonable income to certain group of uniquely talented
This section of the thormay.net site is provided as a gateway to this somewhat
neglected area of the writer's art, mainly by providing some links to more