Entering Tech Writing

Subject: Entering Tech Writing
From: Melissa Lowery <MLOWERY -at- GWM -dot- SC -dot- EDU>
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 11:28:06 -0500

Tech Writers,

I would like to thank those who have responded so far to my request for
advice and information to give those wishing to transition from literature to
tech writing. Most of the responses have contained exactly the kinds of
advice I seek: skills, qualifications, competencies, ways to get started,

Some of the responses have had a negative undertone, though. I have
had at least two people remind me that TWs need technical skills and
knowledge FIRST and writing skills next. I find this kind of response
puzzling. I'm sure there are TWs out there writing about very
sophisticated hardware and software that requires a level of technical
knowledge that the average Joe off the street simply does not have.
Believe me, my first advice to all who have asked for it is that potential
TWs need to have very good computer skills and knowledge.

Beyond this, I think specific technical knowledge is not an absolute
requirement for all TW jobs. I would never send a beginning TW to apply
for a job at HP or NASA. I couldn't do those jobs and I would hate to give
anyone without the proper training the idea that they could either. There
are plenty of other technical writing jobs that require less area specific
knowledge and which are more suited for beginners and non-techies (not
necessarily the same thing, of course).

That said, I am still seeking advice and input to include in my information
collection for grad students hoping to become tech writers. So far, I have
Eric Haddock's useful write-up on portfolios and a growing list of
skills/competencies that potential TWs need to develop (not necessarily in
any particular order, as they say):

- critical and analytical thinking skills
- interpersonal skills (interviewing, interacting with techies, teamwork)
- organization and planning skills
- desire to learn technical subjects (and lack of fear of said technology)
- ability to determine and meet "customer needs" as well as employer
expectations (having the readers' needs in mind while still meeting
deadlines and budgets)
- self discipline (ability to write, edit, etc. even when you'd rather not)
- macro- and micro- project management skills ("Big Picture" and small
detail emphasis in equal parts)
- cross- or inter-disciplinary education and experience
- desire to continually learn new skills, learn new tools, improve writing

Please feel free to add to or dispute any or all of the things I have
included on this list. I am trying to get as much information and advice as
possible together, so any help is appreciated. Again, thanks in advance
for your contributions to my little pet project!

Melissa Lowery
mlowery -at- gwm -dot- sc -dot- edu (until 1-15-97)

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