History of Technical Writing

What is the history of modern technical writing?

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 since the 1940s.

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?

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