I was a computer book technical reviewer earlier in my career. It was a freelance gig, but I still consider the work one of the most formative chapters in my professional writing career even though it wasn’t writing work.

Computer book technical reviewers sometimes called technical editors are responsible for ensuring the technical accuracy of computer book manuscripts. The work taught me to pay attention to technical details, which in turn went onto influence my work as a technical writer and freelance writer.

The lessons I learned include:

Don’t forget industry best practices. The gray underbelly of computer book publishing is that some of the authors have never done real work with the applications they write about. The home office in the spare bedroom just can’t be a bellwether of how the software or service works in the corporate enterprise. The lesson for technical writers here is to know your audience, how they do their jobs, and the industry they work in.

Write substantive comments that engage and stand on their own. None of my former clients in the computer book publishing industry ever met me face to face. There is only one book author I’ve ever met in person. This means my comments on book manuscripts had to be substantive and stand on their own because it wasn’t like I was down the hallway if somebody had a question or needed clarification on a comment I made. Substantive comments also helped where the publisher’s staff may not be technical. As a technical writer, you should be able to back up anything you say or write with facts enough so you can at least follow along in a technical discussion. Remember, the (non) technical writer and ignorance as an asset are industry myths.

Be fluent in multiple browsers and OSes. Some of the finer points in technical manuscripts can be lost with a simple change in Windows OS or browser versions. So it is important to know the OS and browser versions your audience is using. It’s a minor detail, but something to be conscious about especially if you are documenting web-based applications in the Microsoft Windows world. Technical writers need to be conversant in the OSes and browsers their user community uses on a regular basis.

Have you ever had a formative non-writing job that later contributed to your writing career?

Originally published at willkelly.org on October 8, 2011.

Image by freeimages.com user: mrsmarshah


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