Bad Technical Writers

Mister Technical Writer
5 min readAug 12, 2022

How do I know about “Bad Technical Writers,” you ask?

  • For over 22 years, I’ve worked with personalities resembling the
    following “types.”
  • But, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I’ve occasionally resembled
    these portraits.

This is meant to be fun and enjoyable.

Enjoy,

Bobby

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.

  • Oscar Wilde
Please do not read the following if you lack a sense of humor. If you’re already annoyed, you may be sorely lacking a sense of humor. ;-)

FONT FONDLERS

Most of the following characters are “Font Fondlers” (coined by Andrew Plato*).

FFs are distinguished by how they elevate trivial matters into matters of existential significance. Interesting tidbit: Somehow they only fondle among other technical writers (as if they know nobody else cares).

EXAMPLES:

  • Discussing font pairings (Serif and Sans Serif) until the lights go out.
  • Chatting about comma splices, split infinitives, and passive constructions.
  • Debating if Title Case or Sentence Case is better.
  • Arguing any arcane thing in Microsoft’s Style Guide.

*Andrew, an engineer, claims that “Font Fondlers” contribute to a negative attitude toward technical writers among technical SMEs.

Donna Dogma

In a previous life, Donna might have been a Jesuit priest and lawyer.
During the Inquisition.

True to her name, Donna is a “defender of the faith” — of wholesome, righteous technical writing. And an enemy of the sloppy, undisciplined cretins who dare find a whiff of ambiguity in style guides and grammar.

DONNA SAYS THINGS LIKE:

  • Comma rules are rules for a reason!
  • Stick to the style guide!
  • Passive constructions are always wrong!

DONNA’S FAVORITE PLACE:
Relaxing on the beach, reading a style guide.

Kevin the Klever

KK wants you to know he’s smart. Really smart. Not like “basic” technical writers.

Kevin believes the world would be a much better place if everyone adopted Open Source tools. Then ended Capitalism. But he’s a realist. One thing at
a time!

Kevin’s special skill is finding and displaying esoteric knowledge. The knowledge nobody else knows. He sees himself as a cultural repository of special knowledge.

KEVIN SAYS THINGS LIKE:

  • Why does this company spend money on software?

KEVIN’S FAVORITE PLACE:
On Reddit’s Technical Writing Subreddit, stomping on Newbs.

Sam Silo

Sam worked at Facebook. Then Amazon. Now Google. All his friends have worked at these three companies.

Sam says you need to know code to be a technical writer — or you’re not a technical writer. He says this because he’s worked in a silo of big tech companies his entire career. He’s vaguely aware that there are technical writers in other industries, but they’re so basic. I mean Policies & Procedures? Really?!

SAM SAYS THINGS LIKE:

  • You need to learn coding first as a technical writer.
  • There are technical writers in Minnesota?
  • Basic tech writers earn a fraction of what I make.

SAM’S FAVORITE PLACE:
At any cafe in Silicon Valley, talking shop with other Silos.

Anna Administrator

Anna thought technical writing was an easy, creative kind of thing, like writing poetry, which she does almost daily. She hates it when people expect her to know technical stuff. Aren’t the technical people supposed to write this stuff so I can format it?

Anna routinely attends meetings for which she’s not prepared and expects to be “hand held” like a child. Technical SMEs regard her as an admin assistant.

ANNA SAYS THINGS LIKE:

  • That sounds really technical.
  • Am I supposed to know this stuff?
  • Want me to format it pretty for you?

ANNA’S FAVORITE PLACE:

  • At Starbucks, alone, reading e.e. cummings.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Non-Technical Writers Who Present as Technical Writers

Ed Engineer

Ed minored in English twenty-five years ago in College. If you’re not impressed with this, you will be after he mentions it thirty times.

“I replace tech writers,” he tells you when you meet him.

Dang, that’s not a bad thing, you think, considering how badly every other technical SME in your organization writes. Most of them hate writing, too, and are delighted to help you complete their shambolic document stack.

So you save Ed’s document for last, confident you’ll need fifteen minutes to touch it up.

Fifteen hours later, on Sunday morning, you finish rewriting Ed’s mess. You spend another hour wondering how you’re going to soothe Ed’s ego on Monday (when you return his document lit up like a red Christmas tree from tracking).

Doctor David

Doctor David (PhD) is not a technical writer, but wants you to believe he was. You’re paying $40,000 dollars a year to learn technical writing at his university. You think he’s going to tell you the truth?

He’s an English professor and worked hard for his degree. Lived on peanuts until he made tenure.

That’s when the Chair of the English Department stuck a Technical Writing textbook in his hand and told him to teach it next year.

DD likes Chaucer and Shakespeare. He hates technical writing.

But he’ll teach it with a smile on his face because he knows you’re paying exorbitant amounts of money for your education.

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Mister Technical Writer

Bobby B. Kennedy. Tech Writer for > 22 years. Founder, Become a Technical Writer (becometechnicalwriter.com). A hands-on, real-world technical writing course.