Summary: Subject matter experience

Subject: Summary: Subject matter experience
From: weber -at- EASI -dot- COM
Date: Tue, 28 May 1996 17:38:52 -0700

Hi everyone,

Here is the summary of responses to the question:

>What degree of subject matter experience do you think
>is needed for a writer on a particular job?

In general, the respondents thought of subject matter
in terms of broader categories, such as computer doc
or medical/environmental doc. No one expressed the
opinion that a narrow specialty is important, and some
doubted whether having such a specialty is even possible.
However, most seemed to feel that it's best to stay within
one's broader area of expertise, such as computer doc.
The feeling I get is that changing from one such broad
area to another is similar to changing careers altogether,
and is therefore not to be done lightly. (This may not
apply to a lot of contractors, however.)

Some other respondents' thoughts along those lines:

-Broader subject matter experience is likely to improve
one's appeal in the marketplace.

-Even with no subject matter experience, in the right
situation (and with manager's support), a good writer and
editor with good people skills, software skills, and
ability to cope with changes may be able to do the job.

-Experience writing for a similar audience is first priority;
second is experience in the broad subject matter area (such
as database-driven software); third, if practical, is
experience in the narrower subject matter area (such as
accounting or engineering).

Now for the more detailed assessments. Respondents felt
that the breadth of experience needed depends on the

-Audience. Are they programmers, users, support people?
(This was also framed as type of manual: end-user, programmer,
etc.) The writer should have experience writing for a
similar audience. Some respondents felt that ideally, the
writer should be as similar to the audience as possible
in his/her experience or outlook.

-The specific project. How similar is the subject matter
the person knows to the subject matter of the project?

-The deadline. How much learning curve can you afford?

Re: the second question, about whether the "best" tech
writers specialize or diversify, only a couple of people
answered. They again expressed the idea that it's good to
stick with your broader subject area, but other than that,
it doesn't matter.

Thanks to the following people for their thoughtful
responses: Stacey, Rhonda Brown, Bonni Graham, Kim Fawcett,
Karen Mayer, Miki, and Kit Brown.

Thanks again. I hope this is helpful to others!

Faith Weber
EA Systems Inc.
weber -at- easi -dot- com

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