The idea of technical writing may put some freelance writers off. It sounds too much like you need to know what you’re writing about. Obviously that helps, but, depending on the specific technical area, you may be able to blag your way in with just good writing skills and a healthy dollop of common sense. The rest can be learned.
I say this because a friend of mine some years ago applied for a technical writing job in the games development arena, despite not knowing anything about games development. What he did have in his favour was the abovementioned set of writing skills and some decent intelligence. And he liked playing computer games. With those attributes, he got the job. His employer recognised that he possessed the most important part of the job spec already; a steep learning curve could quickly teach him what he needed to know on the technical side. A smart employer will always recognise the importance of good foundation writing skills in a person; those skills without which all the technical knowledge in the world is pretty redundant because they can never be conveyed with any literary prowess.
On the back of this job, my friend ended up moving to the States to pursue his technical writing career.
So, with that in mind, I will now further prove my point by tackling the subject of the Higgs boson.
You’ve no doubt seen on the news that some top physicists in Switzerland recently lost their decorum and went distinctly X-Factor on us, hugging each other and whooping and hollering.
Their cause for celebration? Well, bearing in mind I am not a physicist, let me break it down for you. Essentially, they’ve been searching for 50 years for something they haven’t seen before, and they’re now ecstatic because, having found something they haven’t seen before, they assume it must be the something they haven’t seen before that they’ve been searching for for 50 years. I think that’s right. You see how easily technical writing can be achieved by the layman?
The reason I can explain it all so fluently is because there’s nothing much to explain. Fifty years ago, a science bod named Higgs suggested that there must be an as-yet-undiscovered particle which is the basis of our entire universe. That’s not such a startling conjecture, if you ask me. It all sounds perfectly feasible, and it’s a theory that can never be refuted on the basis that if it’s not discovered it’s not because it doesn’t exist, it’s just that we haven’t found it yet. I think I would be equally valid in positing that all things began from marmalade.
Anyway, these people have recently been hunkered down beneath a mountain in Switzerland, using a thing called the Large Hadron Collider to clash atoms and other very small things (pet rodents when they’re very bored) into each other at the speed of light in the hope of seeing something they haven’t previously seen, and, one would hope, in the hope of not blowing us all to shit. (As a writer, I’m not too happy with the connotations of the word “Collider”. Collisions are never good. If one of your family members comes home and tells you they’ve had a collision, you don’t say, “Oh, then we must celebrate. Where did I put that special-occasion Champagne?”)
What makes matters worse is that there is even a big question mark over whether it is actually the Higgs boson. But there would be, wouldn’t there? How can you positively liken something you’ve never seen before to something someone thought might possibly exist but couldn’t describe?
If these people really want to be taken seriously, they need to deal in real-world conjecture. Particles schmarticles. I’d be happier if they suggested that somewhere out there is a juggling aardvark called Nigel. We’d at least get a Pixar movie out of it.
And if it is the Higgs boson, what can it be used for? Nothing – yet. They don’t know and I hope they never find out. I don’t like scientists discovering new stuff. The Universe has done a pretty good job of holding itself together for a number of years without some bearded people (men and women) understanding why. If they ever do find out how it was formed, I have no doubt they will go right ahead and unform it for us. The fact that they built the Large Hadron Collider inside a mountain makes me think they’re not too confident in their ability to keep a lid on things, although, as they’re playing with forces responsible for The Big Bang, I don’t think having a roof made out of a mountain is going to help them if their little experiments go awry. That’s like cupping your hands around 10 lbs of Semtex and thinking you’ll contain the blast.
Remember: these are the people who brought you the atomic bomb, which will at some point inevitably fall into the hands of sun-baked Iranian fruitcake, President Armoured Dinner Jacket. No Large Hadron Collider required then, eh? Just a red button.
No, they’re far too clever for their own good, scientists – and for our own good. They seem to think that just because something can be done, it should be done, but that theory rather collapses when you look at endeavours such as Russian Roulette, Bungee Jumping and Competitive Eating. Now I’ve said that, you watch some idiot go off and combine the three of them.
Well, I think I’ve made my point. Technical writing. Easy Peasy.