Re: Can a Technical Writer be a Web Designer

Subject: Re: Can a Technical Writer be a Web Designer
From: Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- jci -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 09:52:10 -0600

>What skills might
>a technical writer possess that would enable them to be considered for a

Unfortunately, it's quite possible to be a competent TW without having a
single marketable skill in web design.

> What skills might a technical writer need to acquire before being
>considered for a web position?

Forget most of what you know. ;{>} Sad but true; if you stay with the
"ordinary" TW skills, the only openings in the web world will be for
so-called "content developers," the bottom rung on the ladder (or perhaps
the ground on which the ladder stands).

The current state of the web is about words, but that's about all the
encouragement you're going to get. ;{>}

(now that I've managed to alienate everybody, I can begin to speak.)

Despite the fact that the current web is about words, people don't *read*
web pages. All the nice little sidebars, diagrams and callouts you do are
best handled in completely different ways. The medium does not permit
itself to be used efficiently in the same manner as paper. You can try, but
all you'll manage to do is lose viewers as they click away after waiting
for what seems to them forever (but has only in reality been about 5-10

There are two major classes of webwalkers: Web designers and web

Web designers deal mainly in graphics. Not necessarily creating them,
though they do that, but laying out the site structure, the user interface,
the overall "look and feel" of the information. Graphic packages such as
Photoshop are the most common tool used by these folks.

These people know principles of graphic design (Tufte helps a lot here)
shortcomings and idiosyncracies of the major browsers (here there's little
but experience to guide you). Javascript is essential in this area, java is
optional; a knowledge of what can be done with java will do.

Web developers are software types. They write the code that brings the
overall design to life. This code is either Java, ASP, Javascript, Perl, or
an amalgam of all of them, plus whatever other packages are necessary to
make the site work (Frontier scripts, SQL code, etc.) according to plan.

What *you* in particular need to know is based upon the size of the web
team. Large teams have lots of specialists, which will mean you need to
know less as an entry-level. Smaller teams will have more generalists so
you'll need to know more. Good project management skills are necessary at
both levels.

Increasingly, these lines are getting blurred, so the more you know about
each category, the better off you'll be.

Have fun,
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 224

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.

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