Writers, authors, or communicators?

Are we 'technical writers', 'technical authors', or 'technical communicators'? Does our job title affect how potential customers think of us? This article is a summary of comments from the IASIG group in March 2005.

Mike Gascoigne wrote:

One of my grown-up kids came back to see us at Easter and we were discussing people's attitudes towards documentation, and how they always like to put it on a back-burner because they have got other things to do that are much more interesting.

He explained to me that 'documentation' is a negative word that means invoices and boring paperwork. To us tech writers it means manuals, help systems, websites, interactive training packages and anything else that tells people how to do things. Instead of 'documentation', is there another word that describes our activities, and is there a way of spicing it up to make it more interesting?

Tony Kershaw wrote:

I always say that "I write instructions for things". Often, people see this as fascinating, wondering how I can possibly know how everything works!

But others say, "Ah you write all those user guides that I can't understand, then?", to which I reply, "If you get one of those, it wasn't by me, but if you get one you can understand, it might be one of mine, or be written by another professional technical author…"

I would never tell anyone I produce 'documentation'.

Kim Schrantz wrote:

You could always try 'Information Management' or 'Information Designer'.

Personally, I like the term 'documentation', especially because it's boring. Everyone leaves me alone.

Twenty years ago when I got my degree, technical writing was so new that we could still choose the name. I chose 'Scientific Communication' because it sounded glamorous. Now everyone mistakes my degree for a marketing degree or telephony!

Pete Owens, Methods in Manuals wrote:

I would like to see a better term than 'documentation', but I think we're stuck with it. Whatever we called it, firms would translate the new term as 'documentation'. It is a piece of management speak.

Recently I looked at three possible contracts: a machine tool job, a construction job, and a process plant job. All could have been interesting. All wanted 'documentation', and what they saw as a technical typist to produce it. The problem is in the nature of the job, in that when it is done well it looks easy—anybody can produce paperwork.

Sometimes, I tell people I write instruction manuals, and I am never sure whether the blank looks I get are a lack of understanding or pity! I often say I produce 'technical manuals', because 'technical' seems to be respectable again. As for 'information designer', I have tried that and then had to explain.

Mike Unwalla, www.techscribe.co.uk:

I was not in the discussion. I call myself a 'technical writer', because that is the term that most customers use.

See also

Technical writers: artists or language engineers?

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