By Larry Kunz
posted on July 11, 2011 11:55
When I was eleven my parents took me to Ollivanders Basement on Diagon Alley, where I received my own personal pen. I'm sure that all technical writers share this experience. My pen was made of holly wood (which might explain my early dream of being a screenwriter) and had a core of magic horse feathers. Using that pen I learned spells -- er, spelling -- and composed the essays that helped get me through school and propelled me into my writing career.
I use a laptop now, but the pen is always close at hand, resting in its velvet-lined case. Again, I believe this is the same for all technical writers.
Whimsy? Perhaps. But there's a point. Actually two points.
First, technical writers possess a skill set that's pretty special, and we ought not lose sight of that. We have the ability to communicate clearly. We understand technology, yet we remain focused on the reasons people use the technology. Even the ability to understand editing and publishing tools, as The RoboColum(n) reminded me recently, is in short supply in the places where we work.
Second, technical writers can perform magic, or something very much like it. Just as a magician can make his audience say "Ahh!" once in a while we connect with our readers in such a way that they say "Aha!" Granted, most of us don't do it every day, but sometimes we do.
Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law states that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." A sufficiently advanced help system, document, or user interface -- one that pleases every user, every time -- is like magic too. We strive constantly to achieve that magical result.
As you stand in line to see the final Harry Potter movie this weekend I hope you'll take a moment to reflect on, and celebrate, the special, magical profession that we're part of.
About the Author
Larry Kunz is a project manager and information architect with SDI with more than 30 years’ experience as a writer, manager, and planner. He has experienced the transition from book-based documentation to today's integrated delivery of information both as a writer and a manager. Larry is a Fellow in the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and in 2010 received the STC President’s Award for leading the Society's strategic planning effort.