Re: Are you a writer?

Subject: Re: Are you a writer?
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 27 Feb 2002 18:10:16 -0800 (PST)

Keith Cronin
>
> Interesting points.
>
> I'm curious: Could your philosophy (or a portion of it) be distilled down
> to "If you're not an SME, you can't be a tech writer?"

How about "Subject Matter Power-User?" I don't think its necessary in all
environments to be a full-blown expert. It is however necessary to be closer to
expert level than novice level. If we plot expertise on a graph, with novice
at one end and expert at the other you need to be somewhere between the level
of expertise of the reader and the level of expertise of the SME. And the
closer you are to the SME the better.

Plato's Smart-o-Graph

[Moron]......[Reader]......[Techwriter]....[SME]...[Insert your diety here]

The salient point here, you have to know enough such that you can accurately
and completely communicate with the reader. In some environments, that will
mean you need to be an SME, in others you can probably get away with 1/2 to 1/4
the experience of an SME. Whatever the case, you need to know more than what
you impart to the reader.

> For the tech writing jobs I've been hired to do, I've gone in and learned
> the product, the industry, and worked to familiarize myself with the
> underlying technologies.
>
> Is that acceptable? Am I a tech writer?
>
> Or do I need to know that stuff BEFORE I even apply for the gig?

Were I the guy hiring you - yes. When I hire "experienced" writers, I expect
them to bring some relevant technical skills to the table. I also expect them
to independently learn and absorb as much information about the relevant
technologies as possible (or needed).

However, few tech pubs managers think like me. So you probably can just show up
wearing a t-shirt that says "I is a STC membur" and you'll get the job. :-)

> It seems like you and your company focus on a certain niche, about which
> you've become quite knowledgable (or already were quite knowledgable).
> That's great - it works for you. It makes sense that you should hire in
> your own image, so to speak.
>
> But what of the freelancers, or even the looking-for-a-steady-job types?
> Are we allowed to pass Go and collect $200? Or do we need to first master
> a specific industry and its corresponding technologies before we dare go
> to Muenster.com?

I think you need to offer more than just communication skills. You need to show
how you can add value to your potential employer. I am sorry to say, but many
employers want (or need) more than just good FrameMaker skills. They want
writers who are willing to dig in and learn the technology and products. I've
picked up the pieces from a lot of failed contractors and overwhelming the
complaint was that the writer did not make any effort to understand the
material.

Andrew Plato

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