Re: Query about a technical writing carreer

Subject: Re: Query about a technical writing carreer
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 6 Aug 1996 09:23:01 PDT

Philip Margolies writes:

After graduating with an aerospace engineering degree, I decided to combine
the degree with my interest and (pardon the hubris) ability in writing, and
become a technical writer. My first job was as a technical editor, involved
with editing and indexing journal abstracts for a NASA database. When the
contract was cancelled, I moved laterally within my company to my current
position as a "chemical analyst." I very much would like to return to
technical writing.

>My questions are these:

>1) What (additional) skills and/or coursework do I need for a successful
>career as a technical writer? (I took the required technical writing course
>in school, and an editing class since graduation).

With an engineering degree in your pocket, the only other thing you need
is a pulse. An engineer who is WILLING to write is just as employable
as an engineer who can write well, and is willing to do so.

>2) How can I best market myself as a technical writer?

Market yourself as an engineer who likes writing better than design.
In particular, seek out positions where the audience for your documents
will consist entirely of engineers. Such writing positions are almost
impossible for employers to fill. Tech writers stay away from
engineer-oriented work in droves, especially when it's hardware
documentation rather than software documentation. (There's so much work
in the end-user software documentation side of things that there's no need
for writers without a strong technical background to tackle inaccessible-
to-the-layman hardware manuals for products that engineers will be using in
equally unaccessible ways.)

>3) Following the recent threads on Techwr-L, I have noted how diverse
>technical writing has become. What are the key areas in the field at
>present, and in the near future? Also, where do technical writers see the
>field going?

It doesn't matter. Your qualifications put you in an entirely different
category from well over 99% of the technical writers out there. A strong
hardware background is rare in technical writing. While software is a
boom market, you shouldn't assume that the real, physical universe is
therefore becoming obsolete. Unless there's a sudden fad involving
engineers turning into writers, or writers going back to school for four
years to pick up the necessary background, there will be a shortage of
writers who can create manuals for the more esoteric products.

-- Robert
Robert Plamondon, President/Managing Editor, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139

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