FW: Good tech writing schools?

Subject: FW: Good tech writing schools?
From: "Backer, Corinne" <CBacker -at- glhec -dot- org>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2000 18:19:44 -0600

Sarah Park asked about degree/certificate programs, and Tony Markatos
responded in part:
"...the major thing that a technical communicator needs to do to create
highly usable documentation is to gain a clear, concise, comprehenisve
understanding of the essential end-user tasks that must be
accomplished...and how all of those tasks interrelate. I would focus on
finding a program whose primary purpose is to teach you how to go about
obtaining such understanding. I do not know of any such program. The ones
that I am aware of only teach the "other" stuff that a Technical
Communicator may need to know - Writing, Editing, DTP, Interface Design,
etc."

-----------------------------------
I *really* don't want to start a holy war, but I did want to give another
viewpoint.

I think there are 2 schools of thought on preparing for a career in tech
writing. The first, which I think Tony is promoting, is: Becoming an expert
in a given subject matter is the most important aspect of TW.

I subscribe to another theory: Becoming a good *writer of instructions* is
the most important talent a TW can (must) have. A good writer can apply that
talent to any subject matter. I have written for *widely* varying companies
- literally, from a particle accelerator to a student loan guarantor - with
success (which, for lack of something concrete, I measure by my customers
and bosses being sorry to see me leave).

I can't agree with Tony's post, and would instead recommend to a person
interested in TW that he or she find classes that emphasize the overall tech
writing theory of tech writing, with instructors who are well-versed in the
best/most common methodologies (lay off, Plato). Also, develop some
proficiency in standard TW software tools, which most people can do on their
own, and find an instructor (or better yet, a professional tech writer) who
is willing to serve as a mentor, helping you develop some realistic
expectations so you are prepared when you take that first job.

FYI, I have a tech writing certificate (minor) from the University of
Wisconsin-Madison's engineering school. Looking back, the most valuable
class I took was an internship program. Each of us in the class had a
semester-long internship with a local company (for which we had to
interview). We met once a week with the professor to compare notes, talk
about situations we had encountered, get advice from the professor about
problem solving, etc. Final grade was based mostly on your employer's
review. Even though my internship was at a place that made a type of
microscopes, and my first "real" job was for an analytical x-ray
hardware/software company, I felt confident because I had seen firsthand
what TWs are expected to do every day.

I don't think that these 2 schools of thought are mutually exclusive, and
it's important to keep both in mind. But I wouldn't want a prospective tech
writer (at least any that I would hire) to think that subject matter
knowledge is the key to becoming a good TW - I can't agree with that. If it
were true, most of us wouldn't have jobs - our IS and engineering
departments would be full of successful tech writers. And at least where I
work, that ain't the case. :)

Good luck in your search, Sarah.
CB

-----Original Message-----
From: Anthony Markatos [mailto:tonymar -at- hotmail -dot- com]
Sent: Thursday, January 27, 2000 12:28 PM
To: TECHWR-L
Subject: Re: Good tech writing schools?


Sarah Park asked:

I am uncertain whether I should pursue a degree program or certificate
program in technical writing. Can any of you offer suggestions? Also, I
was wondering if you know the best schools that offer tech. writing
programs?

Tony Markatos responds:

The key to answering this question is to pin-point the major requirement to
creating highly usable end-user documentation (irregardless of the delivery
vehicle).

I create technical communications for complex business systems. It has
always been my experience (15 years) that the major thing that a technical
communicator needs to do to creat highly usable documentation is to gain a
clear, concise, comprehenisve understanding of the essential end-user tasks
that must be accomplished (in order to meet business objectives) and how
all of those tasks interrelate.

I would focus on finding a program whose primary purpose is to teach you how

to go about obtaining such understanding. I do not know of any such
program. The ones that I am aware of only teach the "other" stuff that a
Technical Communicator may need to know - Writing, Editing, DTP, Interface
Design, etc.

Tony Markatos
(tonymar -at- hotmail -dot- com)





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