RE: Rules for being the only writer left standing.... (was: Educa tional areas to pursue)

Subject: RE: Rules for being the only writer left standing.... (was: Educa tional areas to pursue)
From: "Giordano, Connie" <Connie -dot- Giordano -at- FMR -dot- COM>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 2003 16:37:48 -0500

Listen to John... Posada and Gilger both.... They know the realities of
surviving as a communications professional.

I am the only one left standing, working at a great company that has gone
through two rounds of layoffs and at least one more in the next 18 months.
Having watched these threads this week while watching a lot of good folks
pack their desks, I've gotten a bit philosophical... here's my rules for
being the one they keep:

1) Learn the products you have to document. I don't have "technical"
knowledge of the .NET platform and transformations (which is how they build
the software here), but I do have lots of knowledge of the industry that the
software gets marketed to. We don't do API's so I haven't had to go that
route. I'm not a certified QA specialist, but I have found some
show-stopping bugs in the software on the way to delivering on-line help.

2) Learn the audiences you have to document for. Some will want and need
only procedures, some will want and need conceptual information. Be agile
enough to do both, and be ready to jump back and forth.

3) Learn the politics of where you are. 'Nuff said.

4) Be willing to ask for and take on new challenges. Lots of stuff in the
archives on writing specs, getting started with API, usability, training,
and lots of other tangential stuff to the user documentation that gets most
of the focus here. It's all important to somebody, and the somebodies tend
to change frequently.

5) Learn that marketing is your friend, and you are marketing's. The
primary difference between tech writing and marcomm (at least in the
software world) is that marcomm tells you why you need to buy it to make
your life better. Techcomm tells you why you should be glad you bought it
and how you should use it to make your life better. You still need to know
the product and the audience, it's just a matter of style.

6) Answer stupid questions with a smile. Help people fix their frustrations
with MS Office. They will think you are a friggin' genius when you show
them how to get rid of all that extra space in their Word tables, or figure
out a color combination that works well in a Powerpoint presentation.

7) Network and volunteer. I do the corporate website now because I
volunteered to do one for a civic group.

8) Somebody is watching what you do. Do it well.

When the biodegradable matter strikes the rotating air circulation device,
you'll have an umbrella to protect yourself. I'm here because I can do all
the stuff in 1 through 7, I'm willing to do all that stuff, and I do it
well. Somebody was watching, and when it came time to cut another 25% of
staff this week, I was expecting to be a victim... Because of the age-old
lack of respect for soft skills like tech writing. I'm a survivor of two
rounds because somebody was watching and liked what they saw and finally
realized they needed it.

Still reeling from black Wednesday, hoping you all had a better week in your
cube farm than I had in mine...

Connie Giordano
Sr Technical Writer


However, there ARE other writing "genres" that are interesting and
profitable. One area that has been mentioned in passing is marcomm, or
writing marketing copy. This is a broad area encompassing diverse
documentation such as ad copy, brochures, proposals, grants, web content,
annual reports, policy manuals, procedures, sales letters, and direct
marketing packages.

There are even a few people on this list that write technical docs about
something other than software.


If you are comfortable writing in a variety of "genres", it will expand your
prospective opportunities. The "dot bomb" collapse might have dried up a lot
of TW opportunities in the Silicon Valley, but there are other businesses
there that still need good writers in their marketing departments, for

A nickel's worth of free advice to think about.

John Gilger
Senior Technical Writer
Acres Gaming
Las Vegas, NV


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