This week it has been exactly six years since I returned from Brazil, sick and I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic. This morning I was thinking about the first time I did what I consider to be “real technical writing”—it was actually while I was serving as a missionary in Brazil.
While I was serving in the mission office, troche my companion (a native Brazilian) and I were called to the area office to assemble a large open-house display that had been created for missionary use in São Paulo and surrounding areas. The display was 4-5 2-sided panels that were about 7 feet tall. You’ve seen similar things at conventions and state fairs. The panels had pictures of the family and information about family history. The purpose of the display was to show non-members our emphasis on the family. Anyway, this the instructions for assembling the display were all in English. Our job was to assemble the display using the instructions, and then create a set of instructions in Portuguese that would help a Brazilian assemble the display.
We had to translate jargon like “Take the bi-lateral support arm and insert it the grooves as shown in figure 6.” This pretty much consisted of me figuring out what a “bi-lateral support arm” was, and which groves we were talking about. Then my companion, Elder F. dos Santos would find some Portuguese equivalent and would write it down. Once we had it assembled, we had to do the same thing to disassemble it (since certain pieces had to go in certain boxes). Then we went back to the office and wrote up our instructions in Portuguese, using the figures from the original instructions. The next day we went back to the area office, and used our instructions to assemble and disassemble the display.
Little did I know then that I would be writing original instructions in English for my career.