Tech­ni­cal writ­ing has been around since the first tech­ni­cal writer, Cro-Magnon man, was draw­ing on cave walls. How­ever, most experts would agree that the golden age of tech­ni­cal writ­ing started with the inven­tion of the computer.

Here are some of the major mile­stones in tech­ni­cal writ­ing his­tory over the past 60 years.

1949: Joseph D. Chap­line wrote a user’s man­ual for the BINAC com­puter. He became the first tech­ni­cal writer of com­puter documentation.

1951: An ad for a tech­ni­cal writer was first pub­lished in the “Help Wanted” ads.

1952: Joseph D. Chap­line doc­u­mented the UNIVAC com­puter, using exam­ples to doc­u­ment its functions.

1960: The con­tin­ued growth of tech­nol­ogy, par­tic­u­larly in the elec­tron­ics, aero­nau­tics, and space indus­tries, cre­ated a big upsurge in demand for tech­ni­cal writers.

1964: Mar­shall McLuhan pub­lished Under­stand­ing Media, pro­claim­ing that elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion media will soon turn the world into a “global village.”

1965: Ted Nel­son coined the terms “hyper­text” and “hyper­me­dia” to describe a model of non-sequential writ­ing and access­ing infor­ma­tion, stress­ing the con­nec­tions among ideas.

1975: The U.S. Gov­ern­ment required all prod­uct war­ranties to be stated clearly and unambiguously.

1976: The Mod­ern Lan­guage Asso­ci­a­tion (MLA) approved a panel on tech­ni­cal writ­ing at its annual conference.

1980: In an immi­gra­tion case involv­ing the ques­tion of the occu­pa­tion clas­si­fi­ca­tion of a tech­ni­cal pub­li­ca­tions writer, the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice ruled that tech­ni­cal writ­ing is a pro­fes­sion.

1986: The Amer­i­can National Stan­dards Insti­tute (ANSI) released the Stan­dard Gen­er­al­ized Markup Lan­guage (SGML), which became the basis of sev­eral sub­set markup lan­guages, includ­ing HTML.

1987: Early desk­top pub­lish­ing and page lay­out soft­ware began appear­ing on writ­ers’ desk­tops, includ­ing prod­ucts like Ven­tura Pub­lisher, Inter­leaf, FrameMaker, and Aldus PageMaker.

1991: ISO 9000 cer­ti­fi­ca­tion require­ments cre­ated new job oppor­tu­ni­ties for tech­ni­cal writers.

1992: ProEdit is founded in Atlanta, GA.

1999: Writ­ers began using XML, an “exten­si­ble Markup Lan­guage” that is evolv­ing from HTML.

2002: The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 cre­ates new oppor­tu­ni­ties for tech­ni­cal writ­ers doc­u­ment­ing poli­cies, pro­ce­dures, and inter­nal controls.

So what does the future hold? In the short term, more and more infor­ma­tion is mov­ing to the Web. This offers count­less oppor­tu­ni­ties for a tech­ni­cal writer to design and develop future gen­er­a­tions of online help sys­tems. In the longer term, the Web will become the great­est tech­ni­cal writ­ing library imaginable.

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