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In this morning's Techwr-L digest there are two posts on this topic.
John Neil writes: "I am a Technical Communications student in Toronto and I
am seeking information on technical marketing. I am looking for information
on the skills-set of those in this field, the range of output in this field
and an idea of what differentiates a technical marketer from a technical
Judith Scott writes: I currently write procedures for the software
industry. I'm considering a move into the marketing side of tech writing,
however before I make any decisions, I would appreciate any comments,
information, or insight regarding this area of tech writing.
As someone who was once a marketing major but has lately been a tech
writer--mostly in maintenance and assembly procedures, including video
scripting same--and also involved in training, I think it's all the same
thing. Fairly frequently on this list there are microbursts of
anti-marketing sentiment and perhaps those who can't get enough of
"Technical Writers who are also fiction writers" may see a connection, but
I'll continue anyway.
Probably many in marketing will see a significant difference between writing
ad copy or brochures and hitting the streets to meet potential customers
face to face, but I think the requirement is nearly the same ... and is
pretty much the same as what's required to be a successful technical writer.
You have to know your product.
Now, you may not have to know how to design or build your product, but you
certainly need to know how to use it, know why your customers want it, and
how your customers use it. If it's a technical product, then you likely
need some relevant technical background. I remember my friend Fred, who
came to work at this national laboratory fresh with a master's in some
technical field, ready for a long, brilliant career. Mainly he did research
or testing using some sort of spectroscope, and not long after he started
here he left to work in sales for the company that made the spectroscope.
Lots more money and travel. He had the technical background and knew how
the equipment was used. Probably he has stock options, and I know his peers
here (if they still are) don't.
It doesn't seem that very often folks get the chance to read the manual
beforehand to help them decide whether they'll buy a product. Of course if
they do buy it and then can't figure out how to make it work--even after
reading the manual--they may ask for their money back, which is sort of an
"un-sale," and pretty similar to sales if you ask me. Sometimes part of
being an on-the-street salesman is customer (technical) support, and as a
manual writer I've also done that. Again, kind of hard for me at least to
see the difference between sales, technical communication, customer support,
etc. "It's not my job" doesn't work here. Firms that attempt to draw
distinct boundaries between these jobs are on the wrong path, I think. And,
I'd also offer that instances where "the SMEs write the initial draft of
documents" are instances where technical writing is in fact done by SMEs ...
with secretarial help ... and are instances effectively outside the scope of
this discussion. Or not.
Differences between tech writing and marketing? Well, there's the money.
The more clearly management can see that you're the one that made the sale,
the better. Seems to me Judith knows her product and can make the move and
that John needs (and likely has or is getting) a background to enable him to
successfully learn a product.