I thought I'd answer another question that I've been asked a couple of times.
"Do technical writers actually use the products that they write about?"
I'm sure the reason that folks ask this is because what they're seeing on their screen doesn't match what they're reading in the documentation. So I'll talk about common practices in researching the documents that we write about, and try to give some insight as to why things sometimes go awry.
The amount of actual hands-on use of a product during the research phase of a documentation project usually varies based upon the product's complexity. With most consumer software it's not difficult for a technical writer to get a preview build of the software, interview the developer(s), and then write up the documentation based upon actual use. Source documents from Engineering may provide valuable technical tidbits, but most of the...