Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to be a Technical Writer

I am not a technical writer by trade. If I was, I would be making way more money. And I would probably have health insurance and maybe even vision coverage ... sigh ... which is a lifelong dream ... sniffle.

Anyway - I do from time to time attempt to solve technical problems on my own. For instance, I have been trying to figure out why my new laptop computer will not go to sleep. I am pretty sure I am following the correct "Go To Sleep" procedure.
  1. Select the "Sleep" option.
  2. That's it. Go do something else.
Unfortunately, I am unable to go do something else because my little yellow Dell has a bad case of Laptop Insomnia. It will pretend to go to sleep for a few seconds, only to pop back awake singing that little "Do-doot-do-doooo!" song.

After several weeks of this, I knew it was time to get some help. So I went to Dell's technical support website and searched for "Vista sleep." The results gave me nightmares.

The very first result was "Video Corruption and System Freeze," an article explaining how my video card might "hang up and show corrupted video when the system resumes from sleep mode." Yikes! Not only is my laptop an insomniac, it is apparently showing corrupted videos when I think it is sleeping! Shame, shame!! This is worse than I thought.

Fortunately, a little farther down the page I found a message board posting entitled, "Vista won't go to sleep." Perfect. Let's see what the helpful technical writer had to say about it. I will explain the dynamics of technical writing as we go.

Step one: Describe the problem in simple, condescending terms.
"So. I understand your computer will not go to sleep. This sometimes happens and is generally not cause for alarm."

Step two: Provide a clear explanation of the first step that any moron could follow.
"Click on Start, then on Control Panel."

Step three: Now that you have lulled your audience into a false sense of competence, the fun begins! Write out the next step in English. Then go to a translation website and translate it into Japanese. Now translate it back into English. Write down the results word for word, with an evil chuckle.
"Check the Kernel-Power entry under the Source column and at the prompt type 'powercfg.stopwatchingthosecorruptedvideosorelse.' Use the off switch with the same statement to remove hibernate."

I swear, with one small exception, I did not make that up.

The moral of the story is, if you want to be a technical writer you need:
  • A good translation website
  • An evil sense of humor
  • A dictionary of technical terms which you can insert randomly into your directions to completely confuse your already-befuddled audience
I think I'll stick to copywriting. At least it's all in English. Though if my eyesight gets any worse, I just might reconsider.

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