...impersonating a technical writer...

Subject: ...impersonating a technical writer...
From: William Swallow <William -dot- Swallow -at- aptissoftware -dot- com>
To: "'techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2000 11:21:25 -0400

<Elaine wrote:>
My job title is that of Technical Writer, but I am quickly learning that I
am not (in the true sense of the word). I "fell" into this job directly from
university two years ago, and now I can't imagine doing anything else. I
love it!! But... my current position more closely resembles that of a
documentation specialist than a tech. writer.

I work for a systems integration and factory automation company. Currently,
the engineers write the information for our systems and then hand it to me
for production. I insert the text into our standard Word template, do the
formatting, editing, and clarifying. I insert the graphics, which are
already captured and saved in a folder for me. I also create visio drawings
for architectures, and create marketing material from project profiles
completed by the engineers.

In all but a few instances, I miss out on any team aspects of a project. I
do not go on-site and learn a company's system; I don't interview users or
SMEs (other than the engineers from our company who are working on the
project); and because my position is regarded by most as a "necessary
inconvenience", I don't get to develop skills using the tools that are
becoming standard to our industry. We have FrameMaker, but don't use it. We
also have RoboHELP, but I've only used it to assist on a project. I
requested that we order Adobe PhotoShop - but my request was denied and I
was told to continue using Corel 5!

I like the company I work for, but feel I'm committing "career suicide" by
staying. I want to be able to hold my head high when I say I'm a technical
writer. I'm seeking new employment - how do I explain my lack of experience
when being interviewed, and what areas should I start to work on
<END Elaine's post>


You've started down a similar path as I. After graduating from college I
landed a job with a friend of mine as a Typesetter for a translation shop.
My main task was to grab raw translated text from the translators, slap it
into Word, WordPerfect, Quark, PageMaker or whatever other program the
source files were created with and format the translation to mirror the

Though you don't gain any writing experience other than the occasional edit
where necessary, you do pick up a Hell of a lot of tool experience. If your
tech writing studies were solid and you have some solid samples from
projects you worked on in college, you can combine that with your tool
expertise and land a decent entry level position. I happened to land an
entry level Help Author position, as they recognized my experience in layout
and design as well as my tool aptitude and felt I was a perfect fit for the
job. I loved it, and I excelled at what I did (made team lead of Help
Authoring before my 6 month anniversary - toot toot *g*).

In my experience, there's always something positive in any job you hold,
whether it's tangible or intangible (tools vs. corporate relations, for
example). But to answer your question: yes. You should start looking for a
new job, either in your current place of work or with another employer.
You've gone to school, you've built your toolset skills (to some degree at
least), now grab that writing experience!

Bill Swallow
Technical Writer II
a subsidiary of Billing Concepts
8 Southwoods Boulevard
Albany NY 12211
voice: 518.433.7698
fax: 518.433.7680
mailto:william -dot- swallow -at- aptissoftware -dot- com

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