Re: Career Choice and Degree

Subject: Re: Career Choice and Degree
From: Linda Anderson <lindaa -at- PC-SERV1 -dot- EMTEK -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 11 Apr 1995 08:19:30 -0700

I agree with Denise. Many years ago I took my English degree and went to
work for an X-ray device manufacturer. Their biggest concern was that I
had no background in X-ray technology.

What I found when I started working on their manuals was that there were
many points that were completely unclear to anyone but an engineer. I did
all the right stuff (i.e. establishing who my audience was, what their
understanding level was, etc.), then concluded that if I couldn't
understand it, they probably couldn't either.

Today, I know quite a lot about X-ray technology, but not so much that I
can't explain it in terms anyone can understand. And even now, years
afterward, their manuals are still being written so anyone can understand

OTOH, I do find myself wishing I had gotten a minor in something like
Electrical Engineering, or Computer Science simply because it would help a
lot (in my case, at least) when I'm looking for work. Here in the silicon
desert, it seems that many, many employers either want someone with lots
of experience writing about software or, in lieu of that, someone who also
has a background in writing code. Sometimes that makes it tough.

I guess the bottom line is, beware of knowing so much about something that
what's obvious to you won't be to your reader.


In hearing, there is wisdom. In speaking, repentance.

EMTEK Health Care Systems
Tempe, Arizona

On Tue, 11 Apr 1995, MONETTE DENISE P 678-3843 MACA wrote:

> On Mon, 10 Apr 1995, William J. Hartzer wrote:

> > Rick said, "I've got a degree in technical writing, and I think it was the
> > best choice for this field..."
> >
> > I disagree with Rick, to a point. I'd prefer to get a degree in the field
> > writing about. If I were to do 'it' all over again, I'd major in another
> > subject and minor in tech writing. Then I could have my cake and eat it
> > I'd never have to interview another SME! (grin)
> >
> Not to start a war, but...

> I have to disagree with William. As a technical writer, it helps to not
> be an expert in the field for which you are writing. As an expert, it is
> likely that you would carry too much knowledge into your editing, causing
> you to miss the parts technical writers are here to catch (the writing,
> grammar, etc.). I am not saying that it is not important to learn about
> your subject matter, just that it helps sometimes to not be an expert.
> What an engineer, scientist, or other SME might find completely
> understandable might not be understandable at all to a layperson or a
> person in another field. A technical writer that is not an expert in the
> field might need an explanation of the subject matter, revealing that the
> document might be unclear to its audience.

> Denise Monette
> dmonette -at- arl -dot- mil

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