Abandoned firearms, spent cartridge cases, bits of hair and blood, and sketchy witness reports all tell a tale. Forensic scientists work to discover the facts, and forensic technologists try to make the scientific probes easier.
Forensic Technology, a Montreal-based engineering firm, creates products for forensic investigators. I document the work of a fascinating team of engineers, trainers, programmers, technicians, support staff, and forensic specialists. My job consists of uniting their perspectives and concerns into useful and usable documentation.
When I joined Forensic Technology in January 2000, I became the first technical communicator the company hired. My first full-time job thrust me into unknown territory. Feeling uncomfortable and unsure of myself, I appreciated the welcome and reassurance of my co-workers. They emphasized the special abilities of writers, observing that, although our tools differed, we all created necessary solutions.
I worked on Gunsights, a computerized reference of handguns, rifles, and shotguns designed as an identification tool for law enforcement officials, firearm examiners, and other professionals who deal with firearms. The scope of my task surprised me, for it included describing tens of thousands of firearm models from hundreds of firearm manufacturers. Luckily, I worked with two experienced firearm examiners, former police officers with a lifetime of firearm knowledge that they willingly shared. As my fascination increased for a field I previously found disturbing, my co-workers began calling me Gun Moll.
My tasks included summarizing company histories, researching firearm models, creating templates for firearm model entries, and correcting entries written by others. I also worked on a preliminary version of a Gunsights Help application. Soon I moved to the greater challenge of documenting Forensic Technologys flagship product, IBIS.
The Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) consists of a software and hardware package used to identify used cartridge cases and bullets. Law enforcement officials in several countries use IBIS to identify, apprehend, and support the successful prosecution of criminals.
IBIS acquires and catalogues the markings cartridge cases and bullets pick up from the internal mechanisms of the firearm, many as individual as fingerprints. In New Orleans, law officers arrested and prosecuted several gang members after IBIS tied them to numerous drug-related murders and assaults. In an ongoing incident in Boston, police linked three firearms they seized to fifteen previously unconnected violent incidents.
Different points of view add to my knowledge of the system. I document unique technology every day, and I managed to impress my employers with the usefulness of writers who do technical documentation. However, the best part of my job comes each time I read a headline proclaiming Crime Solved Thanks to New Technology. I feel proud of my little contribution to fighting crime. ..
Written by Susan Patrick, reprinted and condensed with permission from INTERCOM, the magazine of the Society for Technical Communication, Arlington, VA, USA.