Top 5 Ways to Annoy a Technical Writer

October 14, 2009

Like most professionals, we writers take a great deal of pride in our work. There are certain things we wish you wouldn’t do – kind of like heating fish in the microwave at work –  if you don’t want us holding our noses at the thought of working with you in the future. Here they are:

1     Say one thing and mean another

There are differences among the terms, editing, reviewing and drafting.  A review is a light glance over your paper – a second set of eyeballs, a blessing. If you ask me to review your work, I’ll give you some suggestions for improving it and point out the obvious grammar errors you made.  It takes just a few minutes and is just a sanity check.

An edit is deeper than a review. It’s more than a second set of eyeballs; it’s more like mark-up surgery. If you ask me to edit your work, I’ll correct grammar and spelling issues, rewrite lists so items are parallel and move sentences around for consistency.  If you ask for a review and your work desperately needs editing, I’ll tell you, so don’t be insulted.

Finally, understand that writers cannot edit or review that which you have not yet written. In this case, you are asking for a writer to draft your paper.  Is this a problem? Heck, no. Writers love to write. Writers stare lovingly at blank screens, a bit of drool on our chins and a gleam in our eyes. Cowriting projects is great fun, but we really need to know ahead of time so we can properly allocate the time needed to ensure a successful outcome.

2   Steal our thunder

Business is under the delusion that everyone can write well and that’s simply not true. Like musicians, there are writers who can do no more than deliver the equivalent of Chopsticks and then there’s Beethoven. Technical Writers fall more into the category of commercial jingle composer, churning out catchy pieces that may not win awards, but meet the business objectives established.  Since we’re so often struggling to dispel the everyone-can-write myth, we’d greatly appreciate if you’d give us the writing credit on projects we draft for you.  Nothing stews a writer’s tomatoes more than spending countless hours on a project while someone else gets sole credit for writing it.

3      Force us to write in a vacuum

This should be a no-brainer but budgets being what they are these days, the issue comes up far too often. If you want writers to effectively document a software application, a consumer product, a Human Resources policy, and so on, but do not give them access to that thing, you’ve just asked us to write fiction. We’ll probably enjoy it, but it won’t meet your expectations now, will it?

Edit our work when we asked for a review

If you are asked to review our work, please do not waste precious time flagging only typos. We’re grown-up writers, we can find those ourselves. We need you to tell us where we’ve misstated something or left out important details, or even missed a procedure altogether.  Don’t get me wrong… if you find a stray typo, we certainly want to know about it. But don’t let that cloud your vision. You’re the subject expert, not us. Your time is much better spent testing the information we’ve written. Did we answer all the questions a customer is likely to have? Are the steps in procedures clear, easy to follow, and complete? Did we provide warnings where undesirable results may occur? These are things we need you to find and for the love of all that’s holy, use Track Changes.

5    Wait until the end of the project to call in the writers

Leaving documentation for the end of the project, like sprinkling seasoning on food, can’t make something fully baked out of something that’s still raw.  Involve writers early – whatever thing you produce, involving writers early in its development cycle ensures quality in the information deliverable. Writers are skilled communicators; when we understand the product fully, we can communicate the right message to ensure your customers understand it fully, too.



  1. Great job.

    • There are more ways, but hey, it’s a start. Thanks for your comment.

  2. OMG enjoyed reading this article. I added your feed to my reader!

  3. Well-written. Exactly my sentiments..

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