In Memory of the First Technical Writer – 1920 to 2011
Joseph Chapline, 91, died peacefully Monday, August 8, 2011 – the first noted technical writer. In 1949, he wrote the user’s manual for the BINAC computer, making him an innovator in the field, paving the way for new writers looking for work.
Before that time, there wasn’t a great need for technical writers because there weren’t technologies available for people to use. Chapline helped to develop the Binac and Eniac systems, which meant he needed user manuals to help those who wanted to use them too. After creating a large manual on the Eniac system, he realized the value of passing on his knowledge of the process.
At the Moore School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, Chapline began to offer classes in technical writing, teaching over 200 in his time at the school.
The Story Takes a Strange Turn
While Chapline started the revolution that is technical writing, he didn’t stay in the profession for long. In 1953, he returned to his love of music and was hired as the organist and choirmaster for the Unitarian Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. There, he continued to develop his mastery of music and helped to teach organists.
Perhaps this story has something to tell us about the possibilities of technical writing, maybe not. Perhaps the brain that’s suited to music is also suited to creating complicated documents. After all, isn’t a musical score an assemblage of notes in the right order so that anyone can play them, just as a user manual is a compilation of instructions so anyone can use them?
Chapline knew the answer, and thankfully he passed it on.