Subject: .
From: DEBORAH VRABEL 977-1326 <VRABEL#m#_DEBBIE -at- LIMS-A1 -dot- LERC -dot- NASA -dot- GOV>
Date: Fri, 24 Feb 1995 09:42:00 EST


Jim Williams was asking about tools and skills to make him more
marketable. I can speak from the perspective of a Cleveland
technical writer who has worked for a NASA Lewis contractor since
1987. (Please note that I am not that knowledgeable about the
needs of commercial technical writing markets.)

I'd suggest Pagemaker as your Number 1 choice. In this area, it
seems to be the de facto standard. Framemaker is popular with
scientists and engineers at Lewis who have Sun or SGI
workstations. If you want to work in the scientific realm or for
high tech vendors, I'd suggest learning it as well.

Word is popular at NASA, but WordPerfect is more popular. I'd
suggest getting somewhat familiar with WordPerfect because all
the computing magazines rate it highly (for what that's worth).
The two are fairly similar.

Opinion here is diverse about graphics software. CorelDraw is
definitiely in the top three. Powerpoint is gaining on it. I'd
guess that if you know CorelDraw, any other package would be easy
after that.

VisualBasic is a good basic choice if you want to get into
graphical user interface design. Again, there are several other
easier ways to design interfaces and help systems but it's hard
to say which would be used most. Although my role at NASA has
moved away from documentation toward more journalistic writing, I
have used a package called ForeHelp to design a Windows-based
help system. I'd suggest that if you're interested in writing
online help, etc. that you focus on learning the design
principles behind any help system. I've seen a lot of technical
people master Help software and put out help systems that use all
the features of the software but are illogical and confusing.

Your experience to date looks like you started at a good place.
I'd suggest some more writing-intensive samples for your
portfolio. If you want a job where your duties would include
newsletters, marketing materials, etc., show how you can
interview a subject matter expert and translate his or her
technical language into simple, elegant English. Show how you can
"sell" a new technology or program being developed at your

If you want a job writing documentation, find an undocumented
procedure and write clear instructions. Your university is a good
source of projects. The best writing sample in my first portfolio
was a user manual I did to help engineering students get started
using AutoCAD. My professor offered my services free to the
School of Engineering and they were happy to oblige. Maybe you
can find a software package used by students that is poorly
documented and write a "getting started" guide.

Good luck.

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