Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!

Subject: Re: What's A TW Got To DO To Get A Job Around Here?!
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 02:34:45 -0800 (PST)

> I've been doing this for twelve years, ever since graduating with a
> Communications degree (Specialization in Technical Writing). I thought I
> had a pretty good handle on what companies expected of us. Now, along
> with my confidence and my net worth, my fundamental understanding of my
> own profession appears to be on shaky ground. What puzzles me is when
> the definition of Technical Writing became so very broad.

Actually, I think its narrowing. Tech writing went though a period of "hey, if
you can use a Frame template you're a tech writer." But that period is ending
and now employers are demanding that writers possess experience with the
technologies or topics relevant to what they document.

> Okay, so the Pharmaceuticals won't hire you unless you have a background
> in Chemistry, Biology, Medicine or a related discipline. I find that
> defensible when there are so many applicants in the pool. But how come I
> all of a sudden have to be able to validate code to get a job? Or write
> code? Or prepare Use Cases? Or (so help me!) answer the telephone and
> distribute the mail? Or have specialized knowledge of esoteric
> manufacturing methodologies? Or . . . well, you get my point.

Because it is impossible to write authoritatively and intelligently if you
don't understand the topic.

> I'm not so naive as to believe that the kind of technical writing I've
> done most of my career is the only kind there is -- I belong to the STC
> and I read this list. But there still seems to me to have been quite a
> shift.

Yes, and it is ultimately a good thing. The focus is shifting away from
"one-off" skills (tools, techniques, etc.) to topic and content skills. This is
good because it means documentation will be focused on what really matters -

> Is this a local trend or a national one? Has it been coming on gradually
> while I spent five years gainfully employed by a company that defines
> technical writers as writers who prepare technical documentation in
> cooperation with subject matter experts? Or is it a phenomenon of the
> current economic climate (PLEASE let this be the case!)?

Its both. There is a real trend starting that writers need to know the subject
matter. I am perhaps one of the loudest and most vocal champions of this trend.

However, there is also a great deal of economic pressure to make companies (and
therefore tech pubs groups) leaner and meaner. Why have writers who don't know
the topic, when there are plenty of writers who DO know the topic? It takes
longer to produce quality documentation if the writers don't understand what
they are documenting. Therefore, companies can save money and ultimately get a
better manuals if they require writers to possess content knowledge.

> Do I need to
> get some additional training and, if so, in what? Are there trends I've
> missed and, if so, what are they and where do I get more information?

You need to find a "content niche". Since computer related positions are still
the most numerous, there is good reason to pursue education in programming,
database development, or networking. Or perhaps you want to write about
pharmaceuticals - then I'd take some chemistry classes.

Reprocessing text from an SME isn't writing. That's clerical work. Writing
demands learning about something and then building a document from the
knowledge you have borrowed, gleaned, or gathered.

> I'm not (too) proud. I'll take a pay cut to support my family. But do I
> have to become something I'm not to do so?

You need to keep improving your skills. Find a technology that interests you
and focus on that. Sell yourself as more than just another tech writer - but a
tech writer that can bring something extra to the table.

Good luck.

Andrew Plato

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