Oh, there are differences, of course—he trained in history, ancient cultures, and archeology; I trained in biology, aeronautics, writing, and digital communications (okay, a word processor), but we are both writers in our respective fields.
“It was his father who had been the archetypal archeologist, digging, discovering, and writing as necessary to document his finds for the rest of the archeological community. With some disdain, Henry Jones senior says to Indiana1, ‘you write books,’ as if he were not a true archeologist.”2
I have worked with many “Henry Jones seniors” who work hard at digging through the bits and bytes of technology to unlock the next “big thing.” When they finally discover or invent that new algorithm or process, they may promptly write a scientific or journal paper on the topic, suitable for reading only by other highly technically focused minds that are capable of understanding the intricacies of the technology.
As a technical and proposal writer, it has been my job to research and nominally understand these new technologies enough to write about them—intelligently—so that curious, literate readers could appreciate what this new “process” had to offer (without having to understand the “bits and bytes”).
Much of my professional career has involved writing technical proposals for major companies focused on research and development. The research engineers could speak eloquently of formulas, processes, structures, etc. The fact is, though, the decision makers in government and industry that use the technologies are not necessarily adept at realizing the why, how, and the potential benefit of these new technologies (they do have technically astute advisors). It is not due to any lack of intellect or poor reading skills. Their roles are business and strategic thinking. Give them tools that work, and they will convert them into strategic or tactical business successes.
Enter the technical writer—at least in my role: my job was to be able to understand the technology enough to explain it and to bridge the gap between the technology-focused engineer and the astute business person so she or he could see it as an opportunity to solve a problem, overcome a challenge, or improve a process (and be a sound business—or strategic—investment).
Often my assignments involve research into the digital archives of the World Wide Web that must first be located, studied, and if applicable, “dusted off,” and written about.
So, I am sort of like Indiana Jones, searching for nuggets of technology—only my “digs” are digital; oh, and I don’t carry a whip.
1 Indiana Jones, Film Character, Lucas Films (The Walt Disney Company)
2Judith Weinraub, Umberto Eco His Complex Design, The Washington Post, November 26, 1989.
Bullwhip Image: Colorado Saddlery – The Supreme Bull Whip (Amazon.com)