writing-notebook Writing is about curiosity

My passion for technical and professional writing is about exploring new topics and writing about them.

I didn't always love technical writing. My undergraduate degree was physics with a minor in mathematics, and at the time I held the narrow view that writing was too "soft." After graduating and entering my first job, I realized that everyone does some level of technical or professional writing. That might include writing documentation for something I worked on, or crafting a proposal for a new project. That was when I finally realized the value of good writing.

I "got" into technical writing about fifteen years ago, writing Linux and programming articles for Linux Journal and other websites. Looking back, those first articles were awkwardly written, but they got the job done. And more importantly, technical writing lets me explore topics I am curious about.

Today, I love technical writing, and I write for several websites including Technically We Write and Both.org. My favorite article topics are about Linux, programming, command line tips and tricks, and using open source applications.

To me, technical writing is about curiosity. I like to try new things, such as exploring a new programming language or experimenting with a new application. And as I learn about them, I like to write articles about them.

Writing to explore new topics

Here's an example: Last year, I decided to dive into the hype surrounding the then-new ChatGPT. Generative AI seems commonplace now, but remember that ChatGPT debuted in November 2022. In January 2023, after hearing about the wonders of this new AI tool, I decided to explore what ChatGPT could really do, and I started to experiment with it.

My first prompts were fairly simple and fun, such as asking ChatGPT to write a short story from the perspective of my cat, or to generate a summary of a TV show, or to craft a short article about how to use the ls command on Linux. ChatGPT had varying success on these prompts, yet demonstrated its usefulness as an AI "co-author" within certain limits such as word count and well-described topics.

I wanted to push the boundaries, and decided to write a book using ChatGPT. Within a week, I created an outline for a programming book, with chapters and major sections, and engineered prompts for the AI to generate text for each section. Asking to write one section at a time was a workaround for ChatGPT's word count limitation.

Writing the prompts took longer than generating the text. Over a few days, I fed the prompts to ChatGPT and copied the results into a new document. Then I created margin notes to highlight any obvious errors from ChatGPT, and wrote end-of-chapter commentary to discuss how well (or not) ChatGPT performed in writing about this topic.

That's how I wrote a book using ChatGPT in just a few weeks. And it was entirely an exercise to explore a new technology and see what it could do.

Writing to share what I learned

I also like to write technical articles to share something that I've learned. For example, while writing the book, I needed to add margin notes to provide corrections or brief highlights about the text. I had never written a margin note before, and I didn't know how to do it.

I quickly scanned the LibreOffice documentation to learn about margin notes. I discovered that LibreOffice didn't have an "insert margin note" feature; instead, authors could use frames to add notes in the margin of a document. I had only used frames within the body of a document, although even those were rare. I didn't know how to add a frame in the page margin.

Using the LibreOffice documentation as a guide, I taught myself how to position a frame so it appeared outside the paragraph area. Through some experimenting, I found that if you select "Mirror on even pages" when setting the horizontal position of the frame, you could select "Outside" for the entire page. This effectively places the margin note on the outermost margin of the page: on Left Pages, the frame will appear in the left margin; on Right Pages, the frame appears on the right-hand margin.

But creating a margin note took several steps. While I had figured it out and knew how to create margin notes for my current project, I wasn't confident that I would remember how to do it the next time I needed it.

That's what drove me to write an article about how to add margin notes to a book project. I wanted to share what I had learned, so others wouldn't have to follow the same journey I had in learning how to create margin notes. But I also created the article as a "memory aid" to help me add margin notes in a future writing project.

Why do you write?

My passion for technical and professional writing is centered around curiosity: exploring new topics and writing about them. But we are each driven by our own reasons to create. Why do you write? Share your passion for writing and why you write in an article. We'd love to highlight your story.