Re: Becoming a TW from a technical background

Subject: Re: Becoming a TW from a technical background
From: "John P. Brinegar" <johnbri -at- PRIMENET -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 1995 10:44:04 -0700

Hello Lief,

You said,

>I am interested in further comments on Charles Good's recent classification
>of Technical Writers. Particularly I'd like to hear about personal
>experiences of people who have made transitions from purely technical
>careers toTW.

>To summarize briefly, and perhaps roughly (I quote from his post below),
>after describing his observations of telecomm downsizing a few years ago,
>Good described three prospective TWs:

> 1) engineers who "lose their edge", and typically are, roughly
> weak writers.
> 2) tech writing students, who tend to be weak technically.
> 3) TWs with a lot of experience, who thereby gained some technical

I moved from circuit design for radar systems to technical writing, not
because I wasn't doing well, but because I wanted to work where I didn't
have to spend three-to-four hours a day in Los Angeles freeway traffic. In
1967, I found a tech writing job in Phoenix, Arizona, at about the same
salary, in an area where the cost of living was substantially less than in
Southern California.

I surely wouldn't characterize most tech writers as in 1), 2), and 3),
above. Technical communication is not a "dumping ground" for poor
performers in the technical world.

I have hired or assisted in the hiring of about 35 tech writers. All but
one of these were successful. The one failed because of mental illness.

My experience is that good tech writers have the following characteristics:

-Empathy; they are able to mentally play the role of the users of their
work. Often, this empahty is related to a troubled childhood.

-Logical; they are able to assemble chaotic concepts into logical order.

- Quick learners; they are able to quickly separate meaningful, useful
concepts from trivia.

-Personable; they have pleasant relationships with the people they contact
as they work.

-Literate; they grew up in homes where reading was common and where
standard English (or whatever language they work in) was spoken.

If you have good examples of your writing, even though you haven't written
technical manuals, you should be able to find employment as a tech writer
(I looked at your resume and bibliography).

Tech writing courses at the community colleges here in Arizona have helped
many people move from another profession (technicians, English teachers,
computer whizzes, etc.) to tech writing.

Just knowing a tech writing tool like FrameMaker doesn't qualify someone as
a tech writer, as at one point, Charles Good seems to say.

John P. Brinegar,
Consulting and development
-Performance support systems
-Technical communications

Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.A.
(602) 278-7398
johnbri -at- primenet -dot- com

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