RE: Questions about the Technical Writing field

Subject: RE: Questions about the Technical Writing field
From: CarolAnne -dot- Wall -at- minnesotamutual -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2002 08:01:45 -0500

> 1. How/why did you become a professional writer?

I like to write, always have. My (former) employer found I had a knack for
writing clear procedures and training people. So I wound up as a trainer.
I wrote a number of training manuals and policy/procedure manuals for that
company. That was my start -- 1986.

> 2. What is your job title? job description?

Technical Writer. I write business requirements, technical documents,
online help, minutes, and occasionally a training guide or tutorial.

> 3. What percentage of your time is spent writing, editing, or presenting?

70% of my time is spent writing or editing. The rest in meetings. TWs
here do not present at meetings.

> 4. What types of writing, editing, and presenting do you do?

See answer to #2.

> 5. Who are your audiences and what are their needs?

programmers -- it depends on the group. Some want all the gory details (see
"testers"), others just want a high-level view of the program changes.
testers (QA) -- the gory details about what goes where, what it does, when
it does it, and how often.
end users (insurance agents/financial planners, home office & field staff)
-- enough to get them going, or to solve their problems when they are

> 6. What things do your audiences expect from your documents or
> presentations?

It depends on the group. Some programmers/testers expect perfection in the
first draft even if the requirements for the project have not been defined
(fortunately, a small handful of people). Some programmers/testers just
want a skeleton to get things started and then I make it pretty later as
the project develops. The end users always expect the documentation to be
able to answer their questions.

> 7. What is your biggest writing-related challenge on the job?

Inconsistent messages about requirements, information, expectations).
Fortunately, I have been with this company long enough to know who will be
inconsistent (fortunately a small handful of people; see 1st draft
perfection comment above) and I try to anticipate problems ahead of time.
Unfortunately, I am not a mind reader!! I need to invest in a crystal
ball, too.

> 8. What about deadlines? How do they influence the way your write on the
> job?

Deadlines have no influence, other than the occasional shifting of
priorities. I have a pretty good internal network, plus our management
keeps us well informed. So I know what's coming down the road, and I do my
best to plan for it. I also like to beat deadlines -- it's fun to surprise
people with a completed document.

> 9. What standard and predictable processes (writing techniques,
> organizational templates, heuristics for brainstorming, etc.), if any, do
> employ in profession-related writing?

Nothing is standard. Nothing is predictable. You just write.

> 10. What are the frustrations/rewards of your work?

See #7 for frustrations. Rewards -- when you hear an end user say, "Hey
that XX document/manual/tutorial/system is terrific."

> 11. What advice do you have for students?

Learn how to learn on your own -- don't depend on someone spoon-feeding you
information or a budget to send you to training on a system. Realize
programmers and engineers can be your best allies -- learn to cultivate
those relationships. Hang out with people in marketing to find out what is
REALLY going on in the company. ***Write well.**

Carol Anne T. Wall, FLMI
Technical Writer - Individual Business Technology, Minnesota Life Insurance
carolanne -dot- wall -at- minnesotamutual -dot- com

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