Re: Fair wage

Subject: Re: Fair wage
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 14 Mar 1997 09:31:43 -0600

>KG: Well geez, I'd feel barbecued by your response above if it weren't for
>the fact that I have degrees in both writing and computer science (yes, a
>double major)! I've done my share of programming. And I said nothing at
>all about engineers being illiterate. (Check my phrase "equally bright
>programmer or engineer".)

No you didn't. But you made an evaluation by comparing the two
professions. You then concluded that writing is the more difficult
skill. That kind of statement begs for a counter-statement. Therefore,
if barbecue is not on your diet, don't order it ;^)

>KG: I wasn't talking about writing in terms of using correct punctuation
>and grammar, though that's certainly a small part of what technical writers
>do. My point was that many untrained writers aren't good at analyzing
>information and organizing it for the highest clarity and conciseness.
>Information design is as much a high-level skill as circuit analysis. And
>I think that a large number of technically trained people tend to use
>jargon instead of looking for the best way to word a topic.

Excellent points. I have no argument here. If this had been used in
support of the sweeping "writing is harder than engineering" statement
in the first post, the coals may never have got warm. Well, I take that
back. Given my penchant for debate, maybe just less barbecue sauce ;^)

>All too often, techies turned writers gear the information they write to the
>user, not to the person who is using a product for the first time. (Even a
>programmer or engineer who has 10+ years of experience and training can
>have difficulty understanding how to use a product if the instructions
>aren't clear enough.)

. . . . Which is the flip side of writers from a humanities background
get flustered by the content so they concentrate on style and format.
People from each background tend to play their long suit. If it's a
techie, they emphasis technical content. If it's a non-techie, they
emphasize style, grammar, and format.

It's been my contention that the job is multi-skilled. It's the
"writing is the only skill" instead of "writing is just one of the
skills" school of thought that gets my lighter ready. Mr. Bledsoe made
some very perceptive comments. The job IS becoming more technical
(context-sensitivity, HTML, multi-media, and so forth). Writing is not
becoming an obsolete skill. However, if you hold fast to the philosophy
that it is the only skill you need to be a Technical Writer, learn to
say, "Do you want some fries with that burger".

>I don't think the disparity in salaries between engineers and technical
>writers is solely because engineering skills are more advanced, though I'd
>concede that management commonly holds that perception. I think salary
>differences are also a gender issue, because a large proportion of tech
>writers are female, and male programmers and engineers still predominate.
>(Thank goodness that's changing!)

There may be a gender gap when you look at the male-female ratio in the
workplace. However, look at the engineering classes. What is the ratio
of men-women who choose engineering as a course of study when they enter
college? What is the ratio of men-women who choose arts and humanities
as a course of study?

I don't believe companies look at the gender ratios and adjust the pay
accordingly. I think companies are mostly interested in making money.
Engineering makes money. How do you balance the scales when there is a
shortage of programmers and 3/4s of the supply are male? If as many
women would enter the engineering fields as do men, the salary gap would
lessen (you have to take into account the number of men who have been on
the job 20 or more years, and, thus, are at peak salaries).

>I also submit that the demand for
>solidly experienced tech writers, with or without a technical background,
>is growing. I know it is, because I've seen writers' salaries rise as the
>demand increases.

Are there also discrepancies in the salaries of 'technical' Technical
Writers and 'non-technical' Technical Writers?

>KG: OK, I'll agree that discerning information is just as important as
>writing ability. But any organization which blindly hands a tech writer an
>uncommented code file or a circuit blueprint and expects him or her to
>produce complete documentation based on it is courting disaster. And a
>professional tech writer with any ability at all should know better than to
>enter technical input verbatim into a document.

No, they shouldn't. But many do. It's not verbatim. They do rewrite
the text. I'm not talking about an organization blindly handing out
code and designs, I'm talking about the writer being innovative enough
to use these alternative information sources when their primary sources
are not available (or conflict).

>Another basic skill a tech writer needs is the ability to identify the
>information needed for thorough documentation, and to ask the right
>questions of SMEs. If a writer asks the right questions, she or he doesn't
>need to rely very heavily on SMEs.

I whole-heartedly agree.

>You seem to be from the "documentation is a necessary evil" school of

No, I come from the "technical writing is much, much more than just
writing' school of thought. I'm all for expanding our duties, tools,
and documentation into more multi-faceted skills (such as running part
of the application through an online document; interactive tutorials,
and so forth). It's when I'm confronted with techno-phobes who want to
set up boundaries to limit us strictly as "writers" rather than
"Technical Writers", that I become irascible. To evaluate the job, the
writer, and the documentation we produce based on a 'writing is the only
school' philosophy labels us forever as glorified secretaries.

Mike Wing
| Michael Wing
| & Principal Technical Writer
| Infrastructure Technical Information Development
| Intergraph Corporation; Huntsville, Alabama
| :
| ( (205) 730-7250
| . mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com

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