Re: Tech Writing Job Stress

Subject: Re: Tech Writing Job Stress
From: Win Day <winday -at- IDIRECT -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 8 Dec 1995 07:44:38 -0500

At 04:50 PM 12/7/95 EST, Rick Lippincott wrote:
>I've been reading both sides of the "tech writer's stress" issue. Some feel
>it's a high stress job, others feel it's low stress. I'm in the latter group.
>I'll explain why.

>The high-stress folks mention slipped deadlines, changing specs, dealing with
>the boss, and so forth. Yep. Us, and many many other working people face
>these problems. We're no better or no worse than the rest of them.

>Win Day noted that some tech writing can affect lives and that can lead to
>increased stress. "Hmmmmm..." I thought. "Sounds like what we need is a
>comparison of the stress levels. Best person to speak about that might be
>someone who -did- have a high-stress non-tech writing job, and then moved to
>a tech writing position where lives were affected. I can't wait to read such
>a posting." About ten minutes ago, I realized that's a rare combination. I
>just may be the only person here who has done both. (If not, I'm the first one
>foolish enough to speak of it....)

Sorry to burst your bubble, Rick, but you're not alone. If you read my post
more carefully, I mentioned that I had fought refinery fires. Real ones,
requiring Scott air packs and fire engines, not the kind we talk about when
we mean "averting a crisis".

I spent several years working in refineries. At one in particular, the
engineers in the tech services department WERE the fire-fighting crew. The
refinery is in a remote location; local fire crews would not and could not
deal with the kinds of fires we had.

I learned that I'm too small to control the nozzle end of a firehose, but I
can pull hose lengths with the best of them. I learned that while I can't
pick up and carry a partner out of danger, I can certainly drag one. I
learned that I don't panic during intense situations, but I throw up afterward.

I also learned how poorly-written documentation can endanger people. At
that point in my engineering career, I was responsible for USING the docs,
not WRITING them. People I cared about, and I, were in danger on a regular
basis until the procedures were re-written. I was instrumental in the
rewriting, and had the questionable bonus of testing my lovely new safety
procedures as they were issued. It doesn't get much more high-stress than that.

We used to take high-pressure gas samples in glass sample bottles (normally
used for liquid samples) because the refinery wouldn't but the right ones
and we didn't know any better. We took high-level H2S samples with
hand-held equipment by opening a valve to the atmosphere and standing
(hopefully) upwind. During my research into safety procedures, I
discovered all kinds of sample-taking procedures that I adapted for that

Those years strengthened my love of the well-written and well-researched
procedure. And yes, it was a VERY stressful time.

Win Day
Technical Writer/Editor
Email: winday -at- idirect -dot- com

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