Technical Writing in Action

by Scott Wilson on January 7, 2017

I was at a party recently and was asked what I do for a living. “I’m a technical writer,” I replied. “I wrote the instruction book you didn’t read when you bought that tech product you don’t use anymore.”

Awkward silence; one woman starting backing away from me.

But one of the strengths of a technical writer, I’ve heard, is perseverance, so I soldiered on.

“For example,” I said to the people still within earshot, “how would you describe this? Try to be pithy but accurate.” I wondered for a second if I should define “pithy” for them.

I didn’t. Instead, I performed a maneuver I had seen in a movie when I was much younger.

“Um, take a giant step to the left”? one person ventured. “Doesn’t quite get the springiness of it,” someone else said. “How about, jump to the left?”

My group was now actually increasing in size and interest, something my previous explanations of technical writing had thoroughly failed to accomplish. Probably the gymnastics aspect, I thought.

“Try to bring some warmth to it,” was my reply, “as if you were talking to a friend.”

“I’ve got it,” said the person who’d mentioned the giant step, “it’s just a jump to the left.”

“Good,” I said, “now step two.” And I did another maneuver.

“That’s easy, step to the right.”

“Can we tie it in with the first step?” I asked.

“OK, how about, and then a step to the right?”

“Perfect,” I replied. “So how about this?” And I performed two actions simultaneously. “Just be short and direct.”

“Alright, put your hands on your hips.. ” and she trailed off.

“Bend your knees?” someone else ventured, clearly new to the group.

“No, that’s a workout move,” was the response. “ How about, bring your knees in tight.”

“Very good,” I said, “but now things get harder. What about this?” And I did the final maneuver of the dance I’d learned from a movie at chaotic midnight showings, never realizing it was my start in technical writing.

Furrowed brows all around. Clearly, I’d gone beyond their developing technical writing skills.

And then an older woman walked up; apparently she’d been watching from across the room.

“My goodness,” she said, “that pelvic thrust is driving me insane.”

And finally someone got it. “So let me get this straight,” he said, “you teach people to dance the Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show?”

“So it seems.”

Everybody:

It’s just a jump to the left.

And then a step to the right.

Put your hands on your hips.

And bring your knees in tight.

But it’s the pelvic thrust.

That really drives you insane.

Let’s do the Time Warp again.

Words and music (I know you’re singing it to yourself!) by Richard O’Brien.

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