Re: Degree Question

Subject: Re: Degree Question
From: Susan Gallagher <Susan_Gallagher_at_Enfin-SD -at- RELAY -dot- PROTEON -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 1994 14:40:00 EST

Teresa Stubbs worries:

> The problem is that I do NOT feel adequately prepared to enter this field.
>The head of our department insists that ETC majors take the same number
>of literature classes as the other English majors do. The only classes
>for a BA in ETC are 'Introduction to Technical Publication,''Writing in
>a Technical World,' 'Desktop Publishing,'and an Internship. We take
>three journalism courses: 'Basic News Reporting,' 'Organizational
>Writing,' and 'Copy Editing.' All other classes are basic composition
>and literature classes.

>I feel competent that I can write memos and letters and I feel competent
>in my ability to put together a newsletter or advertisement, but any
>good secretary can do that. When I read the messages on this network, I
>realize that I don't know most of what is being discussed. Online
>documentation: what is that?

Well, Teresa. You should at least be able to write well.
What seems to be missing is some training in how to organize
information effectively. (I'm not sure we're talking about
"organizational" writing here.) Do some research on how
people learn. Learn the basic rules of teaching new
concepts (like build on prior knowledge...).

Online doc is lots of different things. It's paper manuals
thrown online without any preparation, it's a carefully
prepared context-sensitive help file, it's everything in
between. If you really study online documentation
techniques, you'll find that it's a whole different writing

It's more concise. You need to present as much information
as possible within the default window size and start to feel
inadequate whenever you make your user use the scroll bar to
get to the rest of the info.

It's (believe it or not) less visual. Yes, you have the
opportunity to use bitmaps (hopefully), but italics look
terrible online and using more than one or two levels of
2-space indents gets you worried that the user will have his
help window set **really** small and end up with one word
per line.

If you're writing for a system that provides a viewer, you
probably will have some control over color. If you're
writing in a "native" help system, the user will control
most of the color and you'll be afraid that what you've done
for emphasis will blend into the background.

And you'll never be sure that the user has the font you want
to use!

>The two basic programs we use in most of our classes are Microsoft Word
>and Pagemaker. Are these enough? Do you even use these?

Both are good starts. We've had quite a few discussions
here about which tools to use and what to do when the
employer wants to hire a tool-user rather than a writer!

>The head of our ETC program is a woman whose experience
>and educaiton are phenomenal. She is a dynamite person and I feel that our
>program has a lot of possibilities, if we could only get the department to
>see that our degree should address more technical areas.
<snip some more>

Whether or not you can get your department to consider more
technical areas or not, there's lots you can do to prepare.
Reading this list is one. Joining student chapters of
writers organizations (like STC) is another. Reading
technical documents with a critical eye is yet another. See
how the software/hardware manuals you use work for you and
where they fall short and think about what you would change.

And, don't worry. We all started somewhere!

Sue Gallagher |
Sr. Technical Writer | "Updating a manual
Easel Corporation | is like changing tires
Enfin Technology Lab | on a moving car."
San Diego, CA | -- Edmond Weiss
Susan_Gallagher_at_Enfin-SD -at- relay -dot- proteon -dot- com |

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