Whether you’ve accidentally stumbled into this field or have purposefully selected technical writing to be your career, Krista Van Laan’s The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing is a handy reference book to keep in your drawer.
As a beginner tech writer, I found this book (which I was given to review) supremely useful in giving me more background information into technical writing, particularly because I’m a graduate of a course that focused more on writing and editing than on documentation and record management. Practising what she preaches, Van Laan organises the book logically and writes in plain English, which makes for easy reading. She includes helpful tips for newbies, which also serve as reminders for those who have been in the field for many years, and discusses trends and myths (for example, the Rule of Seven).
While a new starter’s colleagues may be helpful, years of experience mean that there are many things that they may unintentionally neglect to mention, or that they may think is not worth mentioning. A book like this can fill in the gaps–gaps that you (and your colleagues) didn’t realise were there.
More than that though, the book also includes helpful advice on the non-writing aspects of the job, including how to manage your time and how to manage people. A lot of it is common sense and serves more a reminder than as new information, and while you might expect this to be patronising, Van Laan’s tone is anything but that, proving again that this book could be useful for more than just the beginner. She also points you to other valuable sources of information, making her book a great launch pad for those who are new to technical writing.
The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing is really a companion text for the beginner tech writer. Arguably, you could read it cover to cover before starting work in technical writing, but unless you have a great imagination and/or great patience, a lot of the advice is going to lack grounding or context; I find that the information I’m reading really comes together more now that I have actually experienced what she has written, and that I will probably need to refer back to the book as I learn more new tasks.
About the reviewer
Guest Author Angel Huang is a graduate technical writer in Brisbane, Australia. She also co-edits the newsletter for the Society of Editors, Queensland, and writes reviews for Critical Mass [due to site upgrade, past reviews may not appear until August 2012]. Angel can be contacted on email@example.com or through LinkedIn.