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Subject:Re: How much do you have to know? From:Jim Walsh <jimw -at- TENNESSEE -dot- SC -dot- TI -dot- COM> Date:Thu, 3 Mar 1994 17:56:58 CST
From: Jim Walsh <jimw -at- tennessee -dot- sc -dot- ti -dot- com>
Subject: How much do you have to know?
To: Multiple recipients of list TECHWR-L <TECHWR-L -at- OSUVM1 -dot- BITNET>
* Andreas Ramos writes:
* |} Of course! I would say that the only criteria for being a techwriter is
* |} being able to communicate to a non-user what a product can do.
* |} I don't think it's necessary to understand programming, electronics, etc.
I've been in the field of technical writing for over 30 years, nearly all of it
in electronics. Looking back to the early 60's, the majority of writers were
from a variety of areas -- mostly non-college ex-military types who didn't
quite know what to do after being discharged with 4 years of military elec-
tronics, and on the other hand there were former English majors who didn't have
a place to go. In the meantime, the space race was warming up, and jobs were
In the past ten years all this has passed. My original resume (journalism
degree, U.S. Navy electrical school) couldn't get me in the door of my present
company today. Today we recruit from the several dozen schools that offer
technical writing degrees (in scientific and technical communication -- not to
be confused with the tech writing organization using the same initials). The
degree programs require not only writing and design skills, but also approx.
30 or more hours in a core area -- we seek out those with classes in digital
electronics and/or computer science.
Students with such backgrounds are offered pay about that of an electrical
engineer from the same college, and they "hit the ground running". But these
are just a partial payback of their training. I also know they will be happy in
their work, be more confident to talk over the project with the programmer or
engineer, and (most serious of all) feel that they have "control" of their
projects caused by their understanding of the subjects they write about. They
know their manuscript is both corrrect (technically and otherwise) as well
as it is presented in the best and most concise way.
Alternatively, I see people who merely write what is given them by the source
provider, without a clue if it is either correct or clear, and not get any
satisfaction at all. Just think of a subject you know a lot about and visualize
how much fun it would be to tell/instruct others about it, and how scary it
would be to "write" on a subject like neurosurgery (hoping no one here is
skilled in this area). I enclosed the word write in quotes in the previous
sentence, because you cease being a writer and become a typist. If I was to
work on neurosurgical procedures, I'd cease being a writer and enter the world
of everyday typing.
And there are many people in the technical writing field that are really
technical typists. They make up for some of their shortcomings by improving the
layout, do spell check, etc. Some will know where it is permissible to make a
table out of text and perhaps construct a figure for clarity. Each of the skills
increase the "value added" capability of the worker.
But for just good job satisfaction, I suggest that you increase your technical
comprehension in a field that you would like to work in -- medical, law,
biology, electronics, computer science, etc.
Regards -- Jim Walsh jimw -at- tennessee -dot- sc -dot- ti -dot- com
(The @tennessee isn't geographical -- he's my favorite author.)