RE: Questions about the Technical Writing field

Subject: RE: Questions about the Technical Writing field
From: "Nancy Kaminski" <nancy -dot- kaminski -at- spanlink -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2002 13:30:20 -0500

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

I was a project coordinator in an R&D department when one of the
mechanical engineers asked me to help him write a specification. I did,
and I was hooked. I asked my boss if I could be a tech writer, he said
no, so I set out on my own as a freelancer. I was lucky enough to get
some jobs that lasted a year and a half, after which I found a job with
a hospital writing user guides. aFter 7 years there, I moved on to a
software company in the telecommunications industry.

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

My title is Technical Writer, and I write all the documentation required
to support our software---online help, quick references, user guides,
and service manuals. I'm the only writer on staff.

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

100% writing and editing. I don't do presentations.

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

Online help, user guides, technical support manuals. I also do contract
work editing, designing, and laying out safety engineering books for the
American Society of Safety Engineers.

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

Our customers' contact center agents, supervisors, and administrators,
and the technical support people in my company.

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

Clearly presented accurate information and procedures.

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

I've had to learn the ins and outs of telecommunications from scratch.

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

Deadlines make me prioritize work. Some things that are nice to have
(another editing pass, better graphics, a nice design) are left behind
in the interests of getting the information into a book and getting that
PDF included in the build. I've also learned to type faster. <g>

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

I write task-oriented user docs, using our major partner's style guide
and my own doc templates.

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

The most frustrating thing is cornering the SMEs when I need them. The
rewards are the software release pizza party and hearing the words,
"Version 4.2 is frozen!"

> 11. What advice do you have for students?

--Realize that what you learn in class has little bearing on how things
work in the Real World.
--Learn to keep a jar of M&Ms on your desk to lure SMEs in so you can
pounce on them with a question.
--A wiffle bat is a handy thing to have on hand when it's necessary to
encourage an engineer to talk to you and the M&Ms don't work.
--Don't get too wrapped up in theory. Sometimes you just have to sit
down and write the danged manual.
--Despite what Andrew Plato says, fonts can be fun, and fondling them
once a week is good therapy. If you do it more than that, though, you
have a problem and should see someone about it.
--Believe it or not, this is a fun job. Enjoy it!

Nancy E. Kaminski * Technical Writer
Spanlink Communications
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
nancy -dot- kaminski -at- spanlink -dot- com
Phone (763) 971-2311 * Fax (763) 971-2300

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