RE: Prerequisites for a tech writing career

Subject: RE: Prerequisites for a tech writing career
From: Elizabeth Estep <EEstep -at- mrisystem -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2001 12:22:05 -0500

I'm a newly promoted Documentation Mgr. When HR asked me "So what do you
really need in a candidate" I had to make up a job description that
parallels your list of qualities remarkably well.

1. Writes well.
2. Learns and researches efficiently.
3. Manages time and other resources effectively.
4. Plays well with others

I include the last because there's nothing like trying to get a programmer
to explain what the heck that thing does when they a) don't want to answer
or b) don't want to admit they don't really know either to drive you nuts.

The really funny part is how much these criteria at first confused HR (Q:
But don't they need Framemaker experience? A: See Number 2.) but eventually
made the Recruiter very happy, because she's finally managed to fill the
last two positions in my department.

Anyway, I'd take anyone including a career lab tech (Starts Jan 2) if they
can demonstrate these 4 qualities. Anything else (Robohelp/Frame/Database
Design) we can teach, but without these four basic qualities, all the OJT in
the world doesn't help.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents as a hiring manager.


-----Original Message-----
From: CHRISTINE ANAMEIER [mailto:CANAMEIE -at- email -dot- usps -dot- gov]
Sent: Thursday, December 20, 2001 11:33 AM
Subject: Prerequisites for a tech writing career

> An actual aptitude for either writing or technology doesn't
> seem to be on the list of must-haves, for some reason.

I liked Maggie's comment. We see a certain number of questions from
newbies on the list, which most people try to answer as helpfully and
supportively as possible--but are we doing the newbies any favors if
we sidestep the issue of aptitude?

All the online help classes and Framemaker books in the world aren't
going to help if your writing skills are iffy or your technological
expertise is hovering around end-user level--or if you're not
resourceful enough to find your own answers to most questions.

I wouldn't try to enter this field without these qualities:
(1) A clear, glitch-free writing style. A lot of us have to be our own
editors. We're supposed to be the writing experts; if our own writing
is choppy or marred by usage flaws, that's a problem.
(2) An aptitude for technology. Having this aptitude means you know a
lot, and what you don't know, you can learn fast on your own. You're
always the one in the office that other people consult when they can't
figure out how to do something in Word or Excel. You don't have to
call tech support. Geeks respect you.
(3) A measure of independence and resourcefulness. We can't sit in a
cube waiting for other people to tell us exactly what to do or even
give us all the information we need. We have to do a fair amount of
research just to be able to formulate the right questions to extract
information from recalcitrant SMEs.

A good friend once told me, "I'm not good at teaching myself stuff on
the computer. I need to take a class or have someone show me." My
first thought was, "Don't go into tech writing." So what do you think,
gang--can anyone learn to be a tech writer, or are there
prerequisites? What's on YOUR must-have list?


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