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When we discuss the technical background a TW needs or doesn't need, what
specifically are we talking about? Knowing how to document, say,
computer-related stuff? software? application software? Database applications?
Personnel databases? Or knowing how to develop/program [which one]? Or
how [which one] is designed, conceptually? Or having power-used a wide variety
of [which one]?... Or what? How specific? How technical?<<
In addition, what level position are we talking about? I'm sure there are
hundreds of stories out there about people who started in technical writing
without a clear idea of what a hard disk was and three years later were editing
the documentation for the in-house application development system. OK, that's
me, but I assume there are similar experiences.
I think being a good technical writer is about 70%-80% just native intelligence
and ability. Can you ferret out the jargon and the fallacious assumptions and
the gaps, and can you become thoroughly caught up in and fascinated by a
variety of topics, such as global scripts, Windows95 compliance or anything
else that a year ago you couldn't pronounce? Are you truly interested in
whether transitive verbs should be used without an object if it's clearer that
If so, then everything else is helpful, but not essential. If you want a writer
to be plug-and-play and instantly up to speed, then of course knowing how to
document and having an engineering degree is great. But if you don't mind
allowing a six-month period to let him or her learn the processes and the
material (and if you don't mind the corresponding benefit of paying a lower
salary, I guess), a writer with mere intelligence and ability will serve you
Of course, how to measure raw technical writing ability is a WHOLE nother
topic. Does anyone out there have success stories in interviewing entry-level
technical writers with no experience? How do you figure out who's going to be
the phenom and who's going to be looking for a PR job in a year?