Re: Questions about the Technical Writing field

Subject: Re: Questions about the Technical Writing field
From: kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2002 07:11:13 -0600

> 1. How/why did you become a professional writer?
For the money. I could write, and I found there was a market for this. Who

> 2. What is your job title? job description?
Currently I'm a Senior Proposal Coordinator, but I've been a Documentation
Specialist, a Documentation Team Lead, and a Documentation Engineer (but
they didn't let me wear the cool locomotive engineer's hat - bummer).

> 3. What percentage of your time is spent writing, editing, or presenting?
Actual writing on this gig, maybe 20%. Other writing gigs more like 30%.
Editing is a constant tweaking process, so we'll give that a 30 or 40%.
Presenting is very rare, but I get roped into 2 or 3 meetings a week.

> 4. What types of writing, editing, and presenting do you do?
I write sales proposals, which often consists of assembling chunks of
prewritten info and adding customized bits of writing here and there. And
I write lengthy detailed answers to highly technical RFP questions. In
other gigs, I wrote manuals for software users, system administrators, and
programmers. I edit myself, and when working in teams, perform peer edits.

> 5. Who are your audiences and what are their needs?
Current audience is telephone companies that I'm trying to convince to buy
our billing software. It's my job to try to determine their needs (which
vary for each potential customer) and demonstrate how our product can
address those needs. Prior to this gig, my audiences were users of complex
back-office software, who needed to know how to navigate a complex and
non-intuitive software product that managed their company's money and

> 6. What things do your audiences expect from your documents or
> presentations?
Accuracy, clarity, consistency.

> 7. What is your biggest writing-related challenge on the job?
Comprehending complex software and understanding how and why it is used.
Dealing with SMEs with poor communication skills. Figuring out the right
questions to ask.

> 8. What about deadlines? How do they influence the way your write on the
> job?
Deadlines rule my life. They are absolute. I have learned how to set the
level of my efforts to ensure that I always complete each project within
deadline, a task that some writers have a lot of trouble with. Deadlines
simplify life - they make expectations crystal clear. Missing them is not
an option.

> 9. What standard and predictable processes (writing techniques,
> organizational templates, heuristics for brainstorming, etc.), if any, do you
> employ in profession-related writing?
Find out when it's due, who the audience is, who my boss is, who the SMEs
are. Start writing immediately, frequently re-generating a TOC to produce
an outline (I don't waste time treating outlining as a separate task - the
TOC should be a sensible roadmap to the document, so if it looks funny I
know I need to readjust, which I do often). Interview SMEs in logical
chunks that minimize my imposition on their time, then shut up and write.

> 10. What are the frustrations/rewards of your work?
Scope creep (projects expanding beyond initial expectations). Deadline
creep (I want to know when I'll be done, so I'm free for my next project).
Late code freezes. SMEs' and other writers' lack of regard for deadlines.

> 11. What advice do you have for students?
Don't fall in love with your words. This is a job, not art. Read "The Tech
Writing Game" by Van Wicklen. Read everything Andrew Plato writes, and
believe about 70% of it. Read everything Posada, Margulis, and Hart write,
and believe more. And leave the sig lines to the professionals.

-Keith Cronin

I sig, therefore I am.

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