Re: The Big Lie (was 'Are You a Writer?')

Subject: Re: The Big Lie (was 'Are You a Writer?')
From: Elna Tymes <Etymes -at- LTS -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 04 Mar 2002 11:04:41 -0800

Bruce Byfield wrote:

My impression is that, prior to the early Nineties, technical writers were far more likely to technologically-oriented than they are now. However, I wasn't in the field then, so I can't be sure. Can any veterans on the list comment?

<adjusting creaking joints> This veteran of many tools wars can testify that, prior to the nineties, you didn't need a degree in any technological discipline in order to get a job/contract as a technical writer. It helped if you understood DOS and some programming languages, but it was assumed you were smart enough to figure out the technology with the help of what is now called SME's. I sat at the knee of many an engineer and tape recorded his wisdom, then translated the result into various forms of instructions and explanations. I also took a gaggle of network specialists into a large exchange and got them to walk me through at least the beginning steps of troubleshooting a major network installation - and that eventually resulted in two inches of flowcharts describing what to do in all sorts of problem situations. In no case did I have a degree or even special training in the technical disciplines. However several of those manuals won awards.

However there weren't as many tech writers as there are now. There also weren't technical writing programs at most universities, and STC was largely irrelevant, except occasionally at the local level.

In the nineties, job criteria began to change and it was the larger companies who began to develop tools experts, then to demand greater tool expertise from applicants. And the definition of 'tool' began to include more technical topics: did basic knowledge of SQL constitute a basic tech writer tool or was it technical knowledge? Did understanding TCP/IP and other network protocols make one a senior writer? How about the ability to construct a user interface? In the mid nineties, almost nobody understood HTML; three years later it was an assumption for entry level tech writers.

The problem now is one of defining where "technical knowledge" ends and basic tech writer skills begins. I agree that some technical knowledge is necessary, but I suspect that in a tight hiring market an employer can ask for more, while in a robust hiring market employers have to put up with relatively less. I do not agree with Andrew Plato that you aren't a technical writer unless you're also very technical.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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Re: The Big Lie (was 'Are You a Writer?'): From: Andrew Plato
Re: The Big Lie (was 'Are You a Writer?'): From: Bruce Byfield

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