A summary about gaining skills for technical writing (long)

Subject: A summary about gaining skills for technical writing (long)
From: Paula Puffer <techwrtr -at- CEI -dot- NET>
Date: Sat, 25 May 1996 09:55:37 -0500

Okay I finally have a bit of time to sit down and synthesize the
information I
received for my request for information about gaining technical skills. The
responses have been edited and credit given to the person who gave me the

A big thanks to all who replied, and the new job is going wonderfully.

Advice Summary:

1. Learn by reading and experimenting. Community colleges offer very good
courses on technical topics. Also look around on the internet for the tech
needed. (John P. Brinegar)

2. Show that you know what your are doing in terms of output. If your tech
writing courses aren't producing the kinds of documents you want, take an
area of interest that you do know (e.g., one of your hobbies) and put
together a couple of sample docs (include on-line) for it ( it doesn't
matter what the hobby or area may be but there might be a few that could
get you into trouble <g>). Revise/edit the read-me files for a piece of

Software advice:
For winhelp stuff, check out the ftp site. There are a bunch of freeware
and shareware WH tools/utilities (including HWA 2.11)


(Grant Hogarth)

3. Check for signals from your local employment market. Read
the want ads or ask someone from a temp agency or elsewhere. If
people are advertising for a skill, and you take the time to learn
in, then the answer is yes. It would be useful if you could cash in
on it, and you increase your chances of qualifying for such a job if
you know the skill.

Be aware that there is a limit to how many software skills we tech writer
can learn from books without employing them. There may even be a limit to
the number of skills a tech writer type would want to learn. (Bill

4. Buy a copy of Developing Online Help for Windows by Boggan, Farkas, and
Welinske. This trio has recently published a book on Windows 95, but
I would recommend today that you learn to write OLH (online help) at
the Windows level before stepping up to the bells and whistles of
Windows 95. [There is also such as thing as OLH for OS/2 but I know
of no OS/2-based book that sets forth the theory of OLH like the
Windows and Windows 95 books do.]

If Microsoft Office includes Word version 2.0,and buy the Boggans book.
This tome comes with a diskette that has a template that meshes only with
Word version 2. Granted, it won't be as fancy as those name brand help
programs, but it's got all you need to teach yourself the fundamentals of
OLH work.

As long as you have PageMaker and some time, put a manuscript file into it
and start playing with PageMaker's indexing tools. That's another saleable
skill you could put into your bag.

Be patient your chance will come. (Bill Sullivan)

5. You don't need Robohelp to learn how to build Windows Help Files. The
materials are available free. Some Window or MS products (e.g Help
Compilers) are freeware or shareware. PageMaker and MS Office Professional
is a start. (David Blyth)

6. Computer skills are important, but they are not nearly as important at
technical communications skills. Such skills include, but are not limited
to, the following: User job and task analysis, design of deliverables
(documentation, online help, organization, project management, financial,
online doucumentation, multimedia, etc.), interviewing, writing,
illustrating, usability testing, verbal communication, and listening.

Many managers don't understand this, but skills in specific software
applications are not very important. Any good technical communicator can
learn and become proficient in the use of a specific application in a short
time. (John P. Brinegar)

7. A book on Guerilla Tech Writing

Technical Editing; The Practical Guide for Editors and Writers
Judith A. Tarutz
ISBN 0-201-56356-8
(John Posada)

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