Re: Green TW searching for software advice

Subject: Re: Green TW searching for software advice
From: Jeff Hanvey <techwriter -at- jewahe -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002 08:57:13 -0800 (PST)

If I've learned one thing about technical writing as a field, it is that it is very practical. Theory and advice really don't go very far - they used to, but as the field has matured, managers don't look too long at anyone who doesn't show practical experience.

Another reality is that *both* technology *and* tools knowledge are important. It may have been true in the past that you could "skip" the tools portion, but that is no longer the case. Don't let anyone convince you to skip learning anything.

Getting ready to be a technical writer requires a lot of work, and you're going to have to do some of it on your own to make yourself marketable.

Making Yourself a Marketable Tech Writer

A. Skills

First, you should determine a starting point for your career, including:

1. Looking at job ads in your area (or the area you want to relocate to after graduation). Determine what they are asking for - tools and technology. You may have to explore the product lines of these companies to determine what skills you need.

2. Talking to the members of the local STC chapter to determine what they know and use regularly.

3. Taking the time to explore the different facets of technical writing - software, hardware, networking, databases, et cetera.

4. Determining where you want to fit in and focus on training for that path. Yes, this may mean leaving the safety of the English Department and take a minor or second major in another field, but it is well worth your time.

Note: Remember that this is a starting point - not necessarily the finish line. You will almost certainly have to be involved in an on-going learning process, and can always get additional training to change niches.

B. Tools

Once you have your starting point, the tools you know should be obvious. Generally speaking, you should have a solid basis in:

-MS Office (with Access)
-A graphics editor (Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro)
-A desktop publishing tool (PageMaker or Quark Xpress).

Note: While they are not decidedly necessary, I would suggest also that you get familiar with both Visio and RoboHelp

Any other tools you may have to learn will be determined by your career path.

Note: try to actually *do* a project in these tools. I'm sure you can find small documentation projects at home, work, church, or school.

C. Other

Besides showing you the tools to know, your career path should reveal the specific types of documents you will have to write. You can take the time to learn the basics - or even create a few to showcase your talents.

Between the tools, documents, and technology, you won't have much time, but it is worth the effort to have a marketable, rewarding technical writing career.

Jeff Hanvey:

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