RE: Questions about the Technical Writing field

Subject: RE: Questions about the Technical Writing field
From: "Abelove, Amanda" <Amanda -dot- Abelove -at- unistudios -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2002 10:54:42 -0700

I am a technical writing student at Virginia Tech, and I would really
appreciate it if any of you could take a few minutes to answer some or
all of the following questions about the field of technical writing. Please
feel free respond to me off-list at jumays -at- vt -dot- edu and thank you for your help!

1. How/why did you become a professional writer?
- I was pre-law working for a tech lobbyist group on the Hill.
- I started picking up technical writing work from clients to pay the bills.
- Wandered into patent writing from there. Trying to work my way up to patent liason. It is a long road to patent attorney. If anyone out there can tell me how to get a job as a patent liason, please let me know.
- Still do user manuals and online help contracts between gigs to pay the bills.

2. What is your job title? job description?

**** Senior Technical Writer ****

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

**** 90% I avoid meetings like the plague.****

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

**** Anything I can get paid to do at my contract rate. Mostly:
- Invention documentation
- Manuals
- Online help****

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

**** Currently, movie studio and television executives.****

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

**** Well, the project manager says that the documentation needs to be "sexy."
I can only assume that "sexy" means usable and informative.****

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

**** Getting ahold of the experts to review the manual.****

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

**** I have a deadline tied to the project schedule. The work must be done by that deadline, so I sit my butt down and get it written by that deadline. If I get it done before that deadline, there is usually a filler project I can pick up to fill in the hours until the end of my contract.****

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

**** I try to do task-oriented writing as much as possible for user docs. Invention docs are a separate beast and do not usually fall into the scope of what is commonly thought of as technical writing.****

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

**** I hate trying to line up my next contract while I am still working on my current one.****

11. What advice do you have for students?

**** Break the coffee habit while you are in college or once you are out in the real world in an office with free coffee, you will drink 10 cups a day. Which is bad for you.

The following are just opinions:

All office work is dull. Technical writing is the least painful of it, in my opinion. All tech writers are just doing this to pay the bills until A) Their band gets a major record deal, B) They figure out what they really want to do, C) They can afford to move to Vermont and open up a B&B. Some tech writers figure out how to do it as a day job while they pursue their dream.

This in mind:

- Contracting as a technical writer means that you can just do a project and get it done and move on. If a doc isn't good as of publication, you don't get to rewrite it, you just don't get hired by that group again unless they are desperate.

- I have never been a fan of working full time in a large documentation department because the projects aren't as good, you have to tiptoe around a ton of territorialism over every document, the littlest task never ends, and you don't get paid for your overtime. On the other hand you can learn a ton from the other tech writers on staff, who have probably been doing it forever and have read every single piece of professional literature ever published on usability and will thunk you soundly for writing confusing procedures. I say this as a former recipient of sound thunking. :) There is no substitute for sound thunking to learn to write well.

- Full time as the only technical writer on staff is actually pretty fun and gives you a lot of flexibility in the company to do what you want how you want. You take a hit on pay rate, but you are more part of the team and get to build bigger projects... However, there isn't really another experienced tech writer there to help you figure out how to best go about it.****

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