Re: Questions about the Technical Writing field

Subject: Re: Questions about the Technical Writing field
From: "Diane Evans" <diane_evans -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2002 15:26:54 +0000

My turn to chime in, I guess...

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

Professional? I'm simply an amateur writer who is paid well.

I did my first technical writing as an assistant clerk/typist/data entry operator who didn't know that this was a whole career possibility. I thought it was normal to be writing user manuals and documenting databases at minimum wage.

After a fifteen-year career as a minimum-wage, part-time college instructor writing on the side, I realized that my career priorities were backwards.

2. What is your job title? job description?

Title: Requirements Analyst/Technical Writer, only because no one knew what to call my job. My job description was simply, "We need someone who is proficient at Document Process Control and Microsoft Office."

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

Right now, mostly writing. I am doing a little editing, but there aren't many documents other than my own to edit. No presenting currently, but that will change in the next few months.

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

I am documenting internal software at a cutting-edge biotechnical firm (, with a 2-year goal of becoming certified by the FDA for clinical trial work. We do awesome stuff with RNA.

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

My audience is mainly biotech scientists and developers. Each scientist has created their own application or database for their pet project. We are now building one application to encompass all of these systems. First, I need to identify them all, then document them for FDA 21 CFR part 11 compliance.

6. What things do your audiences expect from your documents or

Good grammar and punctuation. A decent template to make all documents look similar.

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

1. Changing the terrible, terrible, template that I was given into a useful one.

2. Developing a software development lifecycle that everyone can live with.

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

Deadlines? What are those? Everytime we set one, and I get the stuff done on time, another department asks for a few more days.

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

I read tech-whirler notes whenever I can.

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

Lack of information, lack of time, lack of decent templates, lack of decent tools (environment: Office 97, Windows NT 4)
11. What advice do you have for students?

Learn a few good Microsoft Office tricks. It will impress the bosses, and they forget how much you DON'T know :). Other than that, learn processes, but don't worry so much about tools. The tool version you learn this year will be obsolete by next.

Diane Evans
Technical Writer

Washington State Coordinator, Tombstone Project
Oregon State Coordinator, Tombstone Project

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