History of Technical Writing

It is extremely diffcult to trace the exact origin of written instructions. It is even more difficult to understand and form a history sheet of technical writing events. Technical writing, as you know is systematic writing of instruction for the users to perform a given task. It is also about documenting information that users can use.

Examples of Ancient Technical Writing

If you do a careful study and research, you will realize that this type of writing reflects in many historical and ancient scripts. So it is true to say that technical writing have been around for centuries. We gave this art of writing a formal name only a few decades ago. Some examples of ancient technical writing are:
  • The Code of Hammurabi written in 1780 BC by King Hammurabi, which describes the laws and punishments for of the ancient Mesopotamian civilization.
  • The Art of War written in 500 BC by Sun Tzu, a Chinese general is the world’s first book on war tactics. The principles taught in this book can be applied to all walks of lives business, sports, management, personal lives, etc. Hence, people have been referring to this book for years, even now!
  • The Kamasutra by sage Vatsyayana, which happens to be the world’s oldest and well-known erotic literature.
  • Darwins Origin of the Species, which discusses the evolution.

Joseph D. Chapline is probably the first technical writer to have written computer related documentation (users instruction manual for the BINAC computer). According to some sources, the early books on technical writing are:

  • A Guide to Technical Writing, T. A. Rickard, 1908
  • The Theory and Practice of Technical Writing, Samuel Chandler Earle, 1911

Samuel Earle is hence considered to be the father of technical writing. The gradual, but the steady growth of the field of electronics, motors, engineering, medicine, pharmaceutical, biomedical, finance, and space industries created a big upsurge in the US. This probably increased the demand for technical writers.

Technical Writing—A Timeline

It is true to say that the advancement of technical writing started with the invention of the computer and it took the form of a upcoming and respected career with the advanced use of computers for creating software and software products.

  • It is believed that the first ever published advertisement for technical writer was in the year 1951.
  • By 1960, degree programs in technical (and scientific writing were offered by many colleges in the US.
  • In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that technical writing is a profession. Hence, this period can be said to be the golden era of technical communication.
  • In 1988, a Globe and Mail article described that the technical writers emerged in response to the explosion in the number of systems being developed.
  • In the mid 90s, new job opportunities for technical writers were created, thanks to the increase in the ISO 9000 certification requirements. It is true to say that most of the organizations initially started recruiting writers to fulfill the ISO requirements more than the documentation requirements.

There has been an increase in the number of desktop publishing tools and page layout software which are used exclusively for documentation purposes—Interleaf, FrameMaker, PageMaker to name a few!


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