TW Skills and TW Students/New Writers

Subject: TW Skills and TW Students/New Writers
From: Jane Bergen <janeb -at- ANSWERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 1996 12:16:50 +0000

> On Tue, 30 Jan 1996, John P. Brinegar wrote:

> > Lynn,
> >
> > > In the fall semester I'll be teaching technical writing
> > > in a computer lab for the first time. The students will
> > > be mostly undergraduates wanting to become professional
> > > writers and editors. Their writing skills vary greatly,
> > > from some who are great writers to some who can't
> > > recognize a sentence fragment from a graphic. As
> > > professionals, what would you all say are the top skills
> > > I should push in this class?
> >
> > I am concerned that many would-be and actual tech communicators
> > are more concerned with writing skills than actually meeting the
> > primary objective of our profession. That objective is to promote
> > the on-the-job performance of the users of our work.
> >
> > This requires many more and more important skills than just clear
> > writing (not that clear writing isn't important). Among these
> > other skills are:
> >
> > --Understanding the users' world of work
> > --Providing the right assistance and information at the right time
> > and place --Communicating visually --Thinking as the users
> > think-having strong empathy for the users --Choosing the right
> > media (great masses of text on paper are seldom the right medium)
> > --Developing in multiple media (text, graphics, animation, video,
> > audio, (smell-a-vision, feel-a-vision?) --Delivering in multiple
> > media --Acquiring information and expertise from appropriate
> > sources (these are not always the development engineers)
> > --Interviewing users and sources of information and expertise
> > --Working in a cross-functional-team environment (marketers, tech
> > support, users, trainers, and other tech commuicators)

Sorry to echo the entire message but I think it's important. I taught
at the university level and want to give some feedback here.

I DO think clear writing is the most important for THESE students. To
concentrate on the skills John mentions would be a disservice to them.

First, many of these students may not work in traditional tech
writing environments.

Second, many of the skills are corporate-culture specific. Writers may
not always work in a "cross-functional-team" environment. These kinds
of things are better taught on the job than taught as part of an
academic curriculum.

Now, before you all get the flaming barbs heated up....... yes, many
new tech writers come out of tech writing programs not knowing much
about writing a computer manual per se. So what. If they can write,
they can learn this. If they can't write, they shouldn't be tech
writers in the first place, no matter how wonderfully they can work in
teams, interview engineers, etc. Writing skills are basic and are not
usually taught on the job.

The problem for academic programs is what to teach beyond the writing
skills. Not all students will write computer manuals. Some will write
for scientific journals. Some will go into marketing. Some will write
for medical environments. Some will freelance. Some will work in huge
organizations with excellent orientation and "incubator" training for
new writers. Some will work for a small startup company writing about
burglar alarms and be the only writer on staff. Academia cannot be all
things to all people.

Companies that hire new writers need to put into place good programs
for training. That would take care of the majority of these
non-writing deficiencies. Nothing, however, can make up for lack of
good writing skills, language mastery, and problem-solving skills.

Jane Bergen
Jane Bergen, Technical Writer
janeb -at- answersoft -dot- com or janeb -at- airmail -dot- net
"The difference between the right word and the
almost right word is the difference between lightning
and the lightning bug" (Mark Twain)

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