RE: Calling all Technical Editors again!

Subject: RE: Calling all Technical Editors again!
From: Michael West <WestM -at- conwag -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2008 16:47:41 +1000

Ned wrote:

> "The minimum [qualification for a technical writer], to me, is a degree
> in the technology you'll be documenting or editing".

Leonard wrote:

> Because technical writers are hired to write, I can't agree that the
> education of a technical writer (or editor) should focus primarily on
> "math/science/engineering".

Except for highly specialised subject areas, which may indeed require
specialised degrees, most technical writers need to be good communicators
first, good learners second, and subject-matter experts third.

In most cases, their knowledge of the subject matter need be no wider or
deeper than the level required for a particular assignment.

My basis for saying this is a long career as a (reasonably) successful
tech writer in a variety of industries. Life simply isn't long enough to
allow for a degree in every field of endeavor for which I've written
instructional material. Brilliant material? No. But well-received and

Always remember -- please -- that communication skills are paramount in
this crazy game. After that, we must be able to quickly assimilate and
understand new subject matter. Once the assignment is complete, we can
forget it all and move on to the next task.

Yes, there are a few specialities that are exceptions (medical writing,
for example).

But in the main, if you love to learn, and know how to gather information
and structure it for transfer to a specific audience, and understand the
tools we use (verbal language, visual language and technical media) you
are well-equipped for a successful career in technical communications.

Therefore, assuming most of you will be writing for a general audience, I
would recommend a teaching degree, a journalism degree, or a generalist
"humanities" type degree before I would recommend anything technical.

Think back to your own education. Chances are the teachers who helped you
the most were not those who had the deepest or broadest knowledge of a
subject. Rather, they were people who loved seeing kids wake up to their
potential, and knew how to light a fire inside you.

Mike West
Melbourne, Australia

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