Spanning the divide

I’ve been chasing this train of thought for a while now and decided to start writing my thoughts down in the vague hope that they come together in a way that makes sense to others. It seems to make sense to me but, as yet, there are a few grey areas into which I may stumble. So, not so much a train of thought but a car crash of ideas, if you will.

Shoddy metaphors aside, the main crux of my thinking is based in my efforts to find a central point around which I can arrange my knowledge. Obviously my knowledge of some areas is greater than my knowledge of others, but part of this exercise is to start to identify the areas in which I’m lacking and so allow me to investigate them further, to feedback into my train.. no.. car… umm, driveshaft??

OK, let’s start over.

The role of a technical writer is fairly varied, and merrily traipses through several distinct fields. Most technical writers will know a little (or a lot) about many topics, how to structure information or how to create a usable index, they will be also have some knowledge or awareness of, for example, typography and readability issues, they will have some knowledge of working with graphics, and they will also gain knowledge of the various tools they use. Suffice to say that the skill set and ‘earned’ knowledge a technical writer posseses is almost endless.

And that’s all before you consider how much they know about the products that they are documenting

So from that starting point we can see that technical writers already dip their toes into various pools of expertise.

Now, let me just changes hats for a second… right. I am now a web designer.

Look at the knowledge I have attained as a technical writer, with a web designer hat on, there are a lot of parallels. Some are direct, some not so obvious but still discretely linked, after all, regardless of the medium the two disciplines share key facets of importance; content and audience. The delivery mechanism is secondary to those at all times.

Web designers also span several different fields, with some knowledge of HTML, CSS and other languages (usually text based), they too worry about layout and typography to ensure readability is maintained, they plan what type of content will be created, and understand the need to structure that information in such a way that it is explorable. The parallels are many.

So, somewhere in my head I’m wondering why the two disciplines don’t seem to be talking to one another. Is it lack of visibility? Is it just me that thinks it is this way? Are there secret meetings going on as I speak?

One of the reasons I ask is because there is a wealth of information out there that focusses on web design, even spilling over into the social/community aspects of information sharing, which the technical writing world could use and leverage. Have a look at some of the articles on A List Apart, for example. Those which aren’t specifically about code tend to talk in terms of analysis, planning and design. All things I do as part of my job as a technical writer. Boxes and Arrows takes you into Information Architecture territory, with user experience key and, for many of us who work in software development and who can influence both the UI and the Use Cases that help constitute a software application, there is a lot of useful information that we can adapt for our own use.


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