Word processors are so embedded in technical communication that we rarely talk about them except to complain about them. But it was not always so. Until the early 1980s, we wrote our material by hand and sent it to "the girls" in the typing pool to be typed (no offense, but this is how it was back then). A few of us used typewriters, but that was unusual.
When computers, in the form of word processors, hit technical communication in the early 1980s, the effect was tremendous. The technical effect was obvious, but there was a huge effect on the workflow and even the culture. Technical communication entered an evolutionary cycle that hasn’t stopped.
That’s why Andy Malcolm’s article – Using a Computer Text Processor for Direct Technical Writing – is meaningful. It’s a rare opportunity to see the beginning of an era.
The features he describes seem primitive today but were a huge wow in 1980, and he mentions some of their possible effects on the workflow. He misses some workflow and cultural effects – his distinction between technical writer and word processing person missed the idea that the two roles would merge – but such mistakes are natural in an article written at the beginning of an era. Read it to get a sense of where modern technical communication came from.
Neil Perlin, Hyper/Word ServicesAndy Malcom, in Memoriam