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I am writing this reply as someone who has a Ph.D in political science with
a specialization in the former Soviet Union. The fact is that a liberal arts
degree such as one in Classics is no hindrance to entering a technical
writing career. One of the advantages of liberal arts degrees when it comes
to technical writing is the ability to organize thoughts and arguments, and
a Classics degree is excellent preparation in this respect.
However, the ability to organize thoughts and arguments is not sufficient
preparation for technical writing. It is, of course, also important to learn
the main tools in the field such as the Microsoft Office Suite, FrameMaker,
and graphics programs (both image processing and vector-based drawing
programs). In addition, it is necessary to learn the basics about computer
technology, such as hardware structure, how programs work, networking, and
the Internet, even if you do not wind up in a technical writing position
that involves documenting software. As liberal arts graduates, it is
necessary to convince potential employers that one can write well, be
teachable, and be able to grasp new technology quickly. As I have mentioned
on previous posts, the academic writing style is not appropriate for
technical writing--often one needs to make the transition from writing about
the abstract to writing about the very concrete.
On a personal note, I have left academia for technical writing because I did
not want to have to deal with the pressures of academia such as the
"publish-or-perish" environment, the competitiveness, the petty politics,
and the low salaries (I am making more as a technical writer than I did as
an academic). I do not regret the choice.
Curtis R. Brautigam
Nursery Supplies, Inc.