Why should Technical Writers learn HTML?

Coming into technical writing in the full-on way that I have, I’ve taken on learning a number of tools all at once, albeit in small chunks at a time. It’s easy to find out which tools are necessary to learn as a tech writer and to begin seeing their worth in your work. I took my list of tools from Tom Johnson’s post in his beginners series and also sifted through job advertisements in my city to see what program knowledge was expected for certain jobs.

Each of the tools Tom listed looked to have a defined role in my prospective ‘toolset’. However, I struggled to understand the need for HTML. Needless to say, I took the advice and learnt the basics of HTML and have now moved onto PHP (which seems to be important knowledge in the Sydney scene) and Javascript.

After some research into the uses of HTML I found that the bottom line is this;

Most of the work you’ll produce is for a PC of some type, and having the ability to use this most basic of markup languages will give you that much more control over how your content is viewed. While programs like Robohelp will output HTML for you, having the ability to edit this can save you a lot of time messing with the user interface rather than simply changing the output code if something goes awry. I’ve read a few articles that imply you can get by without HTML knowledge (here’s a funny article showing that this is true) but I’ve found learning HTML easy, so I’m going take the beaten track.

Having this knowledge coupled with CSS, Javascript, or even XML later down the track will allow me to know exactly how my online documents will appear and will also give me the option to create my own website or simply get further under the bonnet of my blog.

HTML is not so much a tool as a means of perfecting your content. I think this is reason enough to start working with it.

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