Re: Somewhat OT: Tech Writers vs. other writers

Subject: Re: Somewhat OT: Tech Writers vs. other writers
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 18 May 2003 18:44:24 -0700 (PDT)


"ASUE Tekwrytr" wrote

> While I understand that many technical writers are in fact "technical,"with
> skills in a particular field in which he or she is writing documentation,
> many are simply writers. What advantage do the existing technical writers
> have over the wild prolferation of new, aspiring technical writer wannabes
> entering the field at an alarming rate?

Presumably, industry/technical expertise. Most of these college degrees teach
grammar, some tools, and a lot of methodology, all of which is of course of
marginal value in the workplace. The real value is of course industry/content
skills. Something that colleges have a hard time teaching, since it would cause
a lot of people to quickly flunk out and thus amount to lost tuition income.

You're correct, there are a lot of people flooding into tech writing. For this
I blame the font fondlers and other non-technical, non-writer types. These
people have presented a load of crap for decades that writers can be
accomplished professionals without acquiring any "hard" technical skills. Look
at the STC annual conference this year. I counted one or two technical
presentations among hundreds of "career development" and "earn the respect you
deserve" type seminars. For a profession desperate for respect, a lot of its
leading people do nothing to help earn it.

As such, they propagandize to housewives and truck drivers and tell them they
can have an exciting career in the technical communications profession without
having to learn any of that "icky computer stuff." Its not much different than
those late-night, "earn your degree in gun cleaning" type ads.

> Projecting a year or two in the future, who will be better off, the one who
> gets a little experience writing software docs for a database app he or she
> doesn't understand, or the one who stays in school and comes out in a year
> or two with an MS in TW or an MBA with a TW emphasis? My impression is that
> many of the current crop of TW graduates are leaning toward the latter view,
> and that could make a glut of MS and MBA graduates a couple of years from
> now just as there seems to be a glut of BS graduates in TW and TC now. Any
> thoughts or opinions?

People are staying in school now because there are no jobs. Tech writing has
taken the current depression hard. But there is a positive element to it. Many
places have purged out the incompetent and ineffectual that were hired in the
dot.com 90s. As such, those that remain are generally more capable.

I think the real issue is job "commoditization." Certain skills, over time,
become so common that the core skills of a profession become a commodity. As
such, organizations simply shop for the lowest bidder, since the difference
between high-end and low-end professionals is marginal.

This drove me out of tech writing. It became clear that I would never make any
decent money writing docs when my competitor down the street hired gaggles of
morons and contracted them out a low-ball rates.

Tech writing has, in a way, commoditized itself. Because STC and other people
have aggressively pushed non-technical people into the profession, they have
suppressed the value of technical writing as a whole. There are so many bad
tech writers, that they cast a shadow over the entire profession. As such,
organizations are not willing to pay high wages for a skill they see as mostly
clerical in nature. And they see tech writing as mostly clerical, because most
of the writers they hire can't handle anything above or beyond basic clerical
work.

I think, however, things are changing. Font fondlers are being laid off in
droves. And companies are beginning to get a taste of what a real tech writer
can do.

7 years ago when I posted my first criticisms of the font-fondlers, I was
hounded, attacked, and almost universally reviled for daring to suggest that
writers acquire subject-matter expertise. Today, my ideas seem pretty widely
held here. So either something has changed, or all the people who disagree with
me are quiet.

Either way, I'm cool with that.

Andrew Plato

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