Re: real tech writers? RE: Out-of-Work Tech Writers and Switching Careers

Subject: Re: real tech writers? RE: Out-of-Work Tech Writers and Switching Careers
From: "Doc" <dlettvin -at- attbi -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2002 11:36:11 -0400

Please don't interpret my post as suggesting that academic qualifications
are requisite.

In fact, I have been surprised to discover that it can be much harder to get
"qualified" technical writers to conform to a set of standards.

OTOH One of the best I ever hired had a PhD in German Lit., two years of
slow burnout in Tech Support and no TW experience at all. It took a bit of
effort to get her out of the habit of writing passive voice and academic
verbosity, but it was worth the effort. I knew she could do it, she had the
right attitude.

That's the point I was trying to make. A positive attitude, willingness to
learn and experiment and a sense that you want to make a difference are the
critical elements of our craft.

That said . . . I understand Janet's position. Because we are such a curious
profession, it is often hard for HR and others to classify us neatly. To use
a musical analogy, we're like Eva Cassidy who could not get an album
contract because her skills crossed genres. The degree helps them put us in
a pigeonhole.

Tech writers are (or should be) the generalists of the high-tech industry.
We are the intermediaries between the engineers and the users so we have to
be fluent in both languages.

As someone who hired and trained technical writers, I look for certain
qualities. None of those qualities carry any credits toward a degree. It's
kind of a perverse Boy Scout creed. They must be:
* Trustworthy about meeting deadlines (Douglas Adams, of sainted memor, once
said, "I love deadlines, I like the whooshing sound they make as they go
* Insatiably curious, wanting to know how things work and why
* Helpful, always aware that the user's needs are key
* Courteously argumentative but open-minded, able to argue for their POV but
open to others
* Ingenious, able to figure out alternatives
* Thrifty with words, and grammar
* Brave enough to face the ego of a software engineer with equanimity
* Irreverent enough to know that SWEs are often wrong

Above all they must be convinced that without good content you cannot
communicate effectively.

"I feel that if a person cannot communicate, the least he can do is to shut
up." --Tom Lehrer

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