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Emerging Writing Career: Software Documentation Specialist

by Agnes Lumenta

"In the bad old days of the computer industry, it seemed like nobody ever became a technical writer out of choice. Instead, they got stuck with it. The engineer who developed the product was usually responsible for creating the user's manual, a task left to the last minute, rushed, and poorly done. The result was often a manual that could only be understood by someone with an advanced engineering degree." (Romaine, 1996)

Technologies are growing furiously, affecting the science and engineering fields as well as social and business companies and organizations. Being a technical documentation specialist means facing a great challenge to learn about other fields.

Most organizations and businesses use technology to improve their products and services. One of the more important technologies that businesses need is sophisticated software tools. Most credible software must come with instructions that are not only intended as a manual for users, but also as a tool that can protect manufacturers from legal liability. (Wetfeet, 2004). Technical documentation included with the software usually contains guidelines, tutorials, warranty statements, and contact information.

It's no secret that poorly written documentation can cause severe problems for the manufacturer. For example, unsatisfied customers could jam the customer service phone line with questions. Missing instructions or tutorials in software documentation may cause a hardware failure or decrease a client's productivity. This could cause the manufacturer to be sued, which can affect the manufacturer's product liability and customer satisfaction on the manufacturer and affect revenue.

Technical documentation specialists working for a software company need to understand the goal of the software product before beginning the documentation process. The writer also needs to be good at "audience analysis," which means knowing who the documentation is intended for. For example, whether the software is intended for use by graphic designers, engineers, business people, accountants, teachers, and others.

Software documentation specialists typically starts a project by gathering information about the product Second, after deciding the goal and audience for the documents, a draft is then created for managers, programmers, and other associated staff to review. Depending on how complex the software is, reviews can be done multiple times. After the reviews, a final and completed documentation is then submitted to the supervisor and writer. The fourth step is subcontracting additional writers if necessary. The last step is to continue maintenance of the documents, or to train employees for maintaining the documents.

To conclude, being a software documentation specialist for a software company is a very challenging because the specialist needs to be familiar with the software and knowledgeable in the computer- related field in order to in order to be a good documentation specialist. Nowadays, there are even institutions across the United States that provide a curriculum intended especially for technical writing degrees in the software development field. The curriculum includes writing, computer programming, and professional skills.


Sources

Technical Writing. n.d. Wetfeet [Web site], http://www.wetfeet.com/asp/careerprofiles_overview.asp?careerpk=41, (viewed on 30 April 2004).

Romaine, Garret. 1996. Technical Writing as a Career. Computer Bits, 6: 1, http://www.computerbits.com/archive/1996/0100/techwrit.html

Software Technical Writing Program [Web site]. http://careertraining.middlesex.cc.ma.us/stwp/.