RE: Tools used in job

Subject: RE: Tools used in job
From: "Cekis, Margaret" <Margaret -at- mediaocean -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Feb 2002 12:14:48 -0500

Ed Ahlquist [mailto:edahlquist -at- gmx -dot- co -dot- uk] asked about "Tools used in [a
technical writer's] job" on behalf of "a group of Technical Communication
majors at a university, ... surveying the use of software tools in the
current job market, to make suggestions for possible curriculum changes or
additional software availability."
1. What general area do you work in?
2. What software tools do you use on a regular basis?
3. What software tools would you prefer to use on a regular basis?
4. What software tools would you recommend as "basic job skills" for tech
5. What other skills would you recommend as "basic" for tech writers?
Ed et alii: You've already gotten the standard "check the archives"
response. There was an extended discussion from about 11/11 to 11/16/2001
with the subject "Tech Writer Curriculum".

Many people who have been in this field for a number of years have worked in
many different fields and used a wide variety of tools. I've been doing it
since page composition was done with direct typing and/or stripping
negatives into a mask on a light table, and have used word processors from
Script through Display Writer and various generations of Word and Word
Perfect in DOS and Windows, with AmiPro in there, too.

My recommendation is that a beginning tech writer know one word processing
tool like Word or Word Perfect, and understand what word processors are
designed to do, and what their limitations are. Ditto for a good graphics
package like Visio or CorelDraw, and for an image-manipulation tool like
Photoshop or PhotoPaint.

Someone planning a tech writing career who expects to work with software
products should know what Help is, and how it is integrated into the
software, and perhaps a Help-development tool, although they are evolving
faster than the software. For maximum flexibility, exposure to a desktop
publishing/page layout program, and a web-page-development probably would't
hurt, but understanding the concepts, applications, and limitations of these
programs is more important than being proficient in any specific program,
because the tools you learn now are going to change and keep changing.

In one of my jobs (almost 15 years ago) the company decided to use Ventura
Publisher, which had just come out, and sent one of my co-workers to a
week-long training course to learn how to use it. Then we were required to
lay-out a user reference card using the program. Although I did not have
the training, I could use the documentation to find the appropriate
information because I had experience doing manual page layout and knew the
specialized printing industry jargon used in the program. My coworker, who
had a week of training, had not mastered the necessary vocabulary to search
the documentation effectively.

To be versatile, learn as much as you can about whatever you're exposed to,
and try to get a good general understanding of science and technology. I
took math through DiffEq, engineering physics, chemisty, biology (without
the labs), and an introductory programming course. I also took enough
linguistics and related courses to get a minor in linguistics. I have worked
in natural gas research, hospital consulting, smoke detectors and other home
safety products, telecommunications, cable TV, distribution and logistics,
and am currently working for an internet development company. You never
know what kind of opportunities will come your way. Be prepared.

Margaret Cekis
Margaret -at- mediaocean -dot- com

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