TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
It is not surprising that a discussion of "editing software" would lead to a
series of comments on the (in)adequacy of college courses in technical writing.
Where editing is concerned, most college courses focus on issues, principles,
and strategies, rather than on specific software. However, this focus is
not really caused by the teachers' lack of practical experience, since most of
the teachers I know are active as consultants or have previously worked as
The real causes for students' lack of familiarity with specialized software are
two-fold. First, most schools don't have enough money to purchase and update
their software as frequently as some businesses do. Second, no school has
enough money to buy and continually update all competing brands of software for
a given task.
At Oklahoma State, we have been able to assemble a work area in which our tech-
writing students can work on a few high-end computers to teach themselves
specialized computer programs for individual projects. But in our regular
courses, we can incorporate only the most frequently-used software. To
determine frequency of use, we ask for recommendations from our Advisory Group
of technical communicators from around the United States. In addition, we
monitor online job announcements (including those in TECHWR-L, which I cull and
send on to STCJOBS-L) for required or recommended expertise in particular
I am currently preparing a report on software competencies mentioned in job
announcements. When it is complete, I will incorporate it into the OSU
program's web page and post an announcement on this list. In the meantime, I
would appreciate hearing from any TECHWR-L subscriber who would like to comment
about desirable entry-level skills for technical writers--especially in the area
of software, but also in other skills, competencies, and attitudes related to