Of all the places I ever thought I’d discuss the value of Technical Authors, I never thought the back of a taxi would be one of them.
Yesterday afternoon I was on my way to the local train station by taxi when the driver asked me what I did. “I’m a Technical Author,” I replied, watching the rear-view mirror for the puzzled look I usually get when I announce my profession .
Following the expected look, I explained: “I write manuals, specifications, any sort of technical documents.”
This immediately got his attention, and he began what I can best describe as a polite rant.
Turns out he used to be a senior engineer for a firm that sold shower units and cubicles. They began importing products from China, which unsurprisingly were supplied with Chinese manuals: no good for their customer base. Rather than employ a specialist, they set him the task of writing an English manual from scratch.
He tested the first draft himself, and found it wasn’t suitable. So after a rewrite he gave it and a shower unit to a couple of people in the Admin department for testing. Turns out more rewriting was necessary. Overall he spent several days trying to get the manual right, and that was just one manual for one product.
I commented on the waste of resource this represented, and he agreed wholeheartedly. He immediately saw how employing a Technical Author with the necessary skills could not only have saved his time – which would be better spent actually being a senior engineer – but would also have cut down on calls to the support line by customers confused with manuals not written by a professional author.
He dropped me off in town and I went on my way pondering the following question: if a skilled plumber turned taxi driver can see the value in a Technical Author, why is it sometimes so difficult to persuade our colleagues of the same?
 You know the one: mystification tinged with disbelief. As if you’ve said “I’m a Marmalade Consultant”, or “I yodel professionally”.