RE. Looking for scientific/hardware writing opps?

Subject: RE. Looking for scientific/hardware writing opps?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 15 May 2000 08:55:13 -0400

Anonymous wonders <<Are there any freelance technical job opportunities for
writers and editors who specialize in topics other than computer hardware
and software?>>

Unquestionably. I've been making a good living for the past 15 years both as
a wage slave and as a freelancer working in biological research (primarily
forest biology). Anyone who produces a product will require assistance in
writing about that product at some point, but the key thing to realize is
that "products" aren't necessarily computers: they're also abstract things
(e.g., FERIC's product is applied research results), ancient things that
pre-date computers (e.g., how to put together a set of bookshelves), tool
things (e.g., how to use a mass spectrometer), and just about anything else
that requires you to explain something to someone else. What's your
particular field? Who else works in that field? What do they have to write
about it? When you can answer these questions, you can start tracking down
these people and finding out the kind of work they need done. For example,
I'm currently freelancing as an editor for Japanese authors who are trying
to publish their research results in English research journals. They write
in Japlish (English heavily influenced by Japanese), much in the way I write
in Franglais (French heavily influenced by English) when I'm pretending to
be bilingual, and thus, occasionally need a good translator. <g>

<<Are all freelancers and contract writers/editors now required to have
framemaker and robohelp as part of their software packages?>>

Yes and no. Based on discussions on techwr-l over the past 7 years, it's
become obvious to me that some employers emphasize the need for tool skills,
others recognize that communication skills are more important than tools,
and the reasonable majority recognize that some combination of both is
required. I've gotten by happily using Word97 and RoboHelp, but this summer
I'll be abandoning RH in favor of (most likely) ForeHelp, and I much prefer
PageMaker for my desktop publishing work. It can't hurt to learn these and
other tools, but the real answer is that your choice of tools really depends
on your clients and their needs. For example, if you were doing online help
for a client whose in-house staff use RoboHelp, it would be reasonable for
them to ask you to deliver help files in RoboHelp format, so that they could
update and maintain the files by themselves without having to convert the
files from someone else's format.

<<Are there any good resources or contract agencies who actively seek or
hire persons to do the "old" version of technical writing/editing such as
talking about scientific and laboratory, or medical and legal matters,
descriptions of
aircraft engines, mechanical parts and machinery, and various kinds of
engineering systems that don't involve strictly computer languages?>>

Definitely, though I can't help you with headhunters; I've gotten all my
work through networking or digging for job leads in unconventional places.
(For example, if you're in biology, look up all the biological research
institutes in your area and find out what they publish and whether they use
freelancers.) If you're interested in scientific communication and you're an
STC member, you could contact me off-list for information about the
Scientific Communication Special Interest Group. (We're slowly developing
critical mass as a SIG, and the more members we have, the more useful we'll
become to each other.) If you're not, consider joining an organisation more
focused on your needs such as the Council of Biology Editors, the
Association of Earth Science Editors, the Periodical Writers' Association of
Canada, or the American Medical Writers' Association. There are dozens of
other organisations. Drop us (techwr-l) a line with your specific field and
you'll get other, perhaps better, suggestions.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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