RE: "not technical enough"

Subject: RE: "not technical enough"
From: "Christensen, Kent" <lkchris -at- sandia -dot- gov>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 09:55:34 -0600

re: It's fact, that I couldn't be a programmer, but only good enough to be
a technical writer...

It seems to me the challenge is to be good enough to be a good technical

This isn't rocket science (unless you work in rocket science--then it is).
Are you someone who transcribes or reformats words someone else gives you (a
secretary) or can you create something given a blank screen and some
observation? This is how the technical folks you work with will judge you
on their "technical enough" scale.

I offer that a true technical writer (as opposed to secretary) will be able
to observe the process, use the software, etc., and then write the manual or
the help or whatever. The true technical writer will be able to attend,
contribute to, and learn from technical meetings discussing how the customer
uses the product.

Can they teach this in tech writing school? Well, you're probably going to
learn how to use software and that's a start. You could also take a basic
auto mechanics course somewhere. It really depends on the technical nature
of your company's product, and on-the-job learning (training) is most
likely. How willing you are to get this OJT is a good test of your
"technical enough" quotient. School is for learning to design for
usability, about user behavior--the stuff that defines your professionalism.

I think if you're in a firm with "us vs. them" departments, i.e. tech
writing vs. engineering, tech writing vs. marketing, etc., you're in a
company where it doesn't work. In fact, you're in a company ripe for
downsizing the tech writing department because what is the use of tech
writing supervision anyway? Self confident writers can organize their own
peer reviews and their own continuing education, and the OJT should really
be run by the technical folks anyway.

Now, I hope no one "totally agrees" with this. The point of "technical
enough" is self confidence, and that is up to you to do your way. But you
have to be seen as "pulling your weight." You do the writing; don't expect
someone else to give you the rough draft. If you're new on the job ...
well, you're not the only person who has ever been inexperienced. Your
current ability is ability to learn and you should be confident in that. If
your aura is you doubt you're "good enough," you fail the "technical enough"
test by definition ... and your tech writing school owes you a refund.

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