RE: Questions about the Technical Writing field

Subject: RE: Questions about the Technical Writing field
From: "Grant, Christopher" <CGrant -at- glhec -dot- org>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2002 09:58:04 -0500

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

Completed 75% of the coursework to obtain a CS degree in college. Assembly
hurt my brain too much, so I bailed and got my English degree instead. My
CS background with my English degree aimed me pretty directly at technical
communication. But mainly I became a tech writer to make money so I can do
what I really want to do.

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

Technical Writer. Create and maintain printed documentation, online help,
and training to support my company's software products and procedures.
Assist development teams in creating software applications (UI design,
conceptual planning, QA and testing.) Act as general critic to anything I
run into.

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

Probably 70%. The other 30% is spent in meetings or administrative stuff
like tracking my time and reporting my progress.

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

Writing: creating printed documentation or online help or training manuals
designed to explain our products to our end users, which in some cases are
college students, and in other cases may be banks or other financial

Editing: potential to edit anything my team produces, also edit company
newsletters, press releases, Web content, etc.. basically anything printed
(on paper, monitors, or otherwise). But not _everything_ printed. :)

Presenting: Convincing the mucketymucks of the value of online help, mostly.
I don't do much presenting.

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

Dealing with marketing and PR concerns that attempt to have me use language
inappropriate for documentation. Dealing with upper management that is too
busy to make informed calls on word choice and yet do so anyway.

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

Deadline close > write faster.

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

State the problem. Define the boundaries. Gather information. Analyze
information. Write manual. Everything else is on-the-fly.

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

Frustrations: In the past, dealing with other TWs who were actually merely
typists and yet called themselves "writers." Currently, dealing with upper
level micromanagement. It's hard to overcome the lack of trust typists
masquerading as TWs can engender.

Rewards: You create something out of nothing that winds up being a small
part of something bigger that's cool.

> 11. What advice do you have for students?

Don't leave school until you have solid problem-solving skills. In my
experience, this is the single most important skill I took away from
college. For tech writing and life in general.

Don't think that being a technical writer will satisfy your desire to write
creatively. It won't.

Don't focus on particular software tools. Do focus on technologies (for
example, the internet if you're going to work on Web-based stuff, or
electronics if you're going to work on documenting consumer electronics,

Do learn how to learn.

Don't be a whiner. Create solutions, not problems.

Own your work.

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Quick-access buttons & keys to common functions, char tag/font drop-down
lists, charset browser, QRef guides & much more:

Experience RoboHelp X3! This new RoboHelp release combines single sourcing,
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