Re: From Tech Writer to ?

Subject: Re: From Tech Writer to ?
From: Sarah Lee Bihlmayer <sarahlee -at- CONTENTMANAGE -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 1996 22:01:08 -0700

Henry Crews' original query:

> I'm a new tech. writer and new to this list. Technical writing is not my
> first job choice but my new position offered good experience and a good
> raise. I was wondering what career areas are available for a person to
> move on to with technical writing experience?

Phil Block's response:


>After accumulating 12 years experience in paper doc, marketing
>communications, and training materials development, I moved on to
>full-time web page development. Learned HTML and other Internet-related
>areas on my own, in my spare time. Had a couple of employee-sponsored
>web projects along the way. Also had a brief interlude of online help
>exposure (RoboHelp) earlier this year. (Online help and HTML are quite
>similar, IMHO.)

Bill Hartzer disagrees:

>I interpreted Henry's question as meaning "what position(s)
>could he get that would be a 'promotion' from a technical writer, thus
>moving him up the career ladder." I do not think that moving from a
>position as a technical writer to a position as a web page designer is a
>move up the ladder. In fact, I consider it a demotion rather than a

I disagree with Bill for several reasons. First of all, Phil says in his
post that he became a Web page *developer*. Big difference. He had to
learn the tools to do the work, but I interpret that he's developing
content, not designing visuals. And I don't agree that content development
and management for this medium is a demotion from plain-vanilla tech writing.

>First and foremost, designing web pages (coding html) is only a skill (like
>any other technical writing skill) that a technical writer should add to
>their areas of expertise. In my book, coding HTML, writing online help,
>coding SGML, using MS Word and other DTP packages, taking screen
>captures, indexing, etc. are all one in the same: they are skills that
>all great technical writers should have.

This specialty is very new within our profession, and there are some
distinctions between the various functions involved in Web site development
that should be made. I agree that coding HTML is just a skill...however,
the Web is about content. Format is not stressed because of the differences
in display using the spectrum of browsers available on multiple hardware
platforms. Visual design and information design are not the same thing.

>Writing a web page takes no
>more skill than coding SGML or writing online help. In fact, it's easier
>to write a web page than it is to write a good online help system, given
>the available software packages that are on the market today. In fact,
>10 year old kids are now designing their own web pages. You don't have
>to be a technical writer to do it.

You don't have to be a technical writer to code...but the way the user
interacts with the resource is totally different from the paper paradigm.
Developing good Web sites requires excellent writing and editing, document
design, information management, interface design, and user analysis
expertise--in addition to visual design and coding skills. The emphasis on
the mechanics of construction is meaningless if the site doesn't achieve its
information-delivery goals to its target audience.

>IMHO, it is unfortunate that the only reason Phil Block probably went from
>being a technical writer to being a Senior Web Page Designer is because it
>pays more. Period.

I went from technical writing into intranet Web site *development*. Coding
HTML is the tip of the iceberg. The work pays more because it requires a
high degree of careful analysis and sophisticated information design. I
find it very challenging and interesting...much more so than paper-based
work. In my area, the temp agencies _already_ have plenty of people who can
code HTML for word-processing rates.

>I believe that in the future everyone will be able to
>design their own web pages.

Ten years ago, the prevailing opinion was that in the future, everyone would
be able to do their own desktop publishing. This indeed happened--the tools
got easier to use over time. However, anyone who could learn a
desktop-publishing program did not automatically become a graphic designer.
Knowing how to code HTML and create cool graphics doesn't make a person a
good web page designer. I've taken to correcting my clients when they
introduce me to their staff as a "Web publisher" or "Web page designer". I
tactfully tell them that publishing involves coding HTML and loading files
on the server with an FTP client, and that design can mean many things and
is often misperceived as visually-oriented. When they ask what to call me,
I tell them I'm an intranet website development consultant.

>Positions as Senior Web Page Designers aren't here to stay.
>Technical Writers are here to stay because we don't just design
>web pages. We make it easier for users to understand complex
>ideas and concepts and help them get the information they need in a
>quick and efficient manner. Putting that information in a hard cover
>book, in an online help system, on a CD-ROM, or even on the Internet
>is simply a means by which we get our job done.

I think that positions focusing on coding and graphics creation are already
disappearing. Development work is here to stay...and then some. There's an
enormous movement in corporate America to publish internal technical
documentation on intranet web servers. The medium is so new that the
consciousness of its difference from traditional media is just starting to
dawn. Many companies just jump in feet first, and realize after the fact
that their hit rates are so low because their internal sites are
unusable--and that doing straight-across HTML conversions of paper documents
doesn't work. The assumption that the medium is just "electronic paper"
creates implementation and project-management problems as well. I believe
that those who understand that the tools are just the means to an end and
know how to structure content and deliver information to targeted audiences
will continue to be highly employable in this area of our profession.


|"God is in the details." -- Frank Lloyd Wright|
|Sarah Lee Bihlmayer * Intranet Documentation Specialist |
|Site Development * Content Creation * Content Management|
| Technical Writing * Developmental Editing * Indexing |
| 415-207-4046 * sarahlee -at- contentmanage -dot- com |

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