Technical Background

Subject: Technical Background
From: Andi DesJardins Hosler <ADH -at- ASI-RTP -dot- MHS -dot- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 1995 13:22:09 EDT

Greeting fellow netters!

I think I came in on the tail end of this thread. I hope I don't
repeat something that has already been said.

In regards to the technical background of a technical writer, it
seems to me that the audience for whom the document being written
would indicate what kind of background the writer should have. If
you are writing a technical manual for techno readers, you would need
someone who can speak their language. On the same token, if a
document is to be read by a non-techno audience, the writer must have
a good enough understanding of the subject to translate it into
non-technoese. Chances are, this is going to be a different type of
writer than one who is adept at communicating at a technical level.

My degree is in chemistry, but I am not a chemist. This background
gives me the experience to understand the language of chemistry and
other related sciences (biology, pharmacy, medicine,etc., but not
physics, computers or math), and an understanding of the
communication needs of a non-chemically trained audience. For this
skill I have been hired many times. On the other hand, I would never
ever attempt to write something to be read by chemists - my
understanding of chemistry does not permit me to understand the
nuances and details that practicing chemists pick up on. That does
not mean that I provide erroneous information to the audience for
which I write - it just recognizes that my audience has a less
demanding need for technical details.

It would seem to me that a writer should understand their audience
first, then have some sort of related experience in the technical
field. Some background would be required to understand the language
of the subject, but an in depth understanding is more than is usually
necessary. Communication skills should definitely come first.

Re: breaking into technical writing: I am not now and never have
been trained in technical writing. Being a chemistry student and
writing lab reports prepared me for the detail and organization
often required by tech writing. I literally stumbled upon my
"discovery" as a technical writer when I was hired as a public
information officer for a technically oriented group. Our head PIO
was responsible for writing, so I was not expected to actually
compose anything. But, I did such a good job on a draft document
that I was asked to write that I became an official writer. My
grammer lacks from time to time, but minor things like that can be
edited out by a good editor. From that job I slid into another
writing job, and now I can call myself a technical writer. It seems
to me that it would be hard to jump right into a technical writing
job with absolutely no experience. Unless you have direct training
in tech writing, it seems that it might be easier to take another job
at the company you want to work for, then request writing
assingments. For many companies, that may be the only way to prove
your worth as a writer if you don't have a degree in writing.

(hmmm - a degree in writing - is that correct grammer? This could be
interpreted as having a piece of paper documenting that you have a
degree - not necessarily in writing. Perhaps I should have used
another word to avoid confusion. O.k. what I meant was a writing
degree. Oh, I just love the english language. <grin>)


Andrea DesJardins (Hosler)
Technical Information Specialist

adh -at- asi-rtp -dot- mhs -dot- compuserve -dot- com

The views and opinions expressed in this message are mine and mine alone.

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