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In my opinion, visual material is of crucial importance in technical documents, especially in procedures, but paradoxically, technical illustrations seem to be a dying art.

Is it better for a technical writer to also do technical illustration, or is it better to find and work with an illustrator? What are the pros and cons of each approach?

migrated from techcomm.stackexchange.com Feb 20 '18 at 15:22

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    An illustrated answer to this question would be just perfect. :) – Nick Volynkin Jan 25 '18 at 5:27
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A technical author should always know what illustration would work best at which point in their document. However, it isn't always necessary to prepare the illustrations yourself.

For the documents that I write, I prepare most of the illustrations myself. Especially schematic diagrams, charts and similar reasonably simple technical pictures. However, I am not an artist or a graphic designer. Knowing one's limits is important. If you have access to someone who can turn your back-of-an-envelope picture into something beautiful, then stick to what you do best - the words.

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    This matches pretty well with my experience. I have made many illustrations but I think often my biggest contribution was how the information should be laid out. Most of the time I could put together something that looked fine myself and I think that's an important skill, but recognizing that there is a skillset others may have to present the information more cleanly is also important. – thesquaregroot Jan 24 '18 at 14:33
  • I agree, if your organization has people reponsible for visual materials, they can ensure that the visual style of graphics matches that of e.g. marketing content. Of course being able to draft what the documentation needs can be very useful. – Weathervane Jan 24 '18 at 14:39
  • @Weathervane, also to match company and documentation style – Romeo Ninov Jan 24 '18 at 14:50
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I have no drawing ability at all. As far as I'm concerned, it's like asking a graphic designer to write the manual: some might have the skills and experience, but most won't. These are experts at conveying a concept graphically far better than I can ever hope to. In the past, I've always been lucky enough to work together with at least one expert in illustration. Their results are ten times better — and faster — than mine.

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As a technical illustrator as well as technical writer, I most frequently generate my own illustrations, and frequently provide that service for others, however I don't think it a reasonable expectation that technical communicators generally create their own illustrations or more complex diagrams.

It's a good practice to derive your own simple diagrammatic figures, but in most cases it's far simpler, more consistent and more efficient to have a technical illustrator complete that work to the organization's in-house standards, moreover, that work can be done in parallel with the rest of the documentation work you are doing, which speeds the process considerably.

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Define "illustrate".

As a successful technical communicator since 1998, I must confess I have the visual-arts sensibilities of a gerbil. But I have done well-received diagrams of complex-system components and their relationshops, dataflow diagrams, and similar sorts of schematic-ey illustrations. (Think Visio or similar connect-the-blocks tools.)

But "illustrate" may also mean more visually sophisticated artwork of the sort one sees in marketing brochures. I'm smart enought to know I need to find a graphics specialist for that...

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"Graphics" skills are nice to have a skill for technical writes. In some cases (but not all) graphical representation of the information is really crucial. But who will do the graphics, images, etc depend on the project scale, budget and so on.

To add also to the list of instruments Corel Draw, dia, MS Excel, Photoshop

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    I think this is a good answer. If I'm freelancing then I might have to create graphics myself because I don't have the budget for an illustrator. But if I work at a company with an in-house designer, then I will use them for preference. – Mark Ireland Jan 24 '18 at 16:20
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    Don't forget about MS Paint ;-) – user24 Jan 24 '18 at 18:53
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I think it is a critical skill for tech writers to be able to do illustrations. Budgets are always a priority and a company will want a person who has as many skills as possible. I create nearly all of my illustrations mainly using Adobe Illustrator and Visio. Formerly I used SolidWorks, AutoCAD.

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