Re: Education of a Technical Writer

Subject: Re: Education of a Technical Writer
From: "Curtis Brautigam" <curtisb -at- nurserysupplies -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L digest" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2000 08:57:30 -0500

One of the things that can be said about the technical writing profession is
that our educational backgrounds are varied. Of course, there is the B.S. in
technical writing offered by a number of universities, and people enter the
profession that way. However, only a small percentage of technical writers
have formal degrees in technical writing. I would classify the educational
background of technical writers according to three categories:

-- The first category is those who have formal 4-year degrees in Technical
Writing, English, Communications, or Journalism. Many employers call for
technical writers with those types of degrees. It serves to emphasize the
point that we are technical WRITERS who value good writing style.

-- The second category is those who have formal degrees in the liberal arts.
The liberal arts teach people how to think critically, how to organize their
arguments, and how to ask the right questions. I can also include teachers
in this category -- user documentation is a form of education (you are
teaching the user how to use the product). I am in this category. I have a
Ph.D in political science and have taught at a 4-year institution. There are
many history, philosophy, political science, sociology, and other liberal
arts majors who have gone on to become technical writers. In addition, the
liberal arts also value good writing schools. I developed good editing
skills by correcting students' term papers while I was in academia. Of
course, academic writing is different from technical writing, but you can
also have bad academic writing as well as bad technical writing. While it
seems that many employers are not explicitly looking for technical writers
with liberal arts backgrounds, it is up to the TWs with liberal arts
backgrounds to convince potential employers that they have the necessary
skills to do the job required.

-- The third category is those who have 4-year degrees in the natural
sciences, engineering, and other technical subjects. These people bring
technical knowledge to the profession. While we are writers, we are also
technical writers, and as such, we need to become technical. Many employers
want technical writers with a "technical background." Those technical
writers who do not have a technical background must be willing to become
technical, or else they won't survive.

I believe that it is very important for technical writers to engage in
ongoing education and expand our skills, especially with fast-changing
technology. Before I became a technical writer, I took courses in multimedia
authoring, networking organizations, graphics and desktop publishing. I also
took a technical writing course, and I pretty much learned FrameMaker and
Acrobat on my own. I want to take more courses to be able do my job even
more effectively. Education for the technical writer is can ongoing process.

Curtis R. Brautigam
Technical Writer
Nursery Supplies, Inc.
Chambersburg, PA.

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