Re: Techwriting at $8/hr

Subject: Re: Techwriting at $8/hr
From: Beth Agnew <bagnew -at- INSYSTEMS -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 1997 08:48:21 -0400

The real problem with this is that someone, a techwriter wannabe, with few
skills and no professionalism, will take this job,
have poor results (they get what they pay for) and make it that much harder
for the next technical writer who has to come in to salvage the job.
Companies who think they can get cheap technical writing, DO get cheap
technical writing, but it sets up lingering expectations that a)
techwriters aren't worth the hype, and b) you don't need real skills to do
technical writing. Practitioners who take these jobs undervalue themselves
if they have any capability at all; they subsequently struggle to get
decent work and to feel like they're a significant part of the profession.

The entire writing profession is plagued by this mentality. Whether it's
fiction writing, journalism, periodical writing, or technical writing (and
more!) there will always be "writers" who are willing to give their work
away or work for very little in order to "break in" or simply see their
names in print. True, many professions have an internship or apprenticeship
phase during which new practitioners "pay their dues". In writing, that
phase is chaotic; apart from co-op programs at educational institutions
there are no managed programs where new writers can learn professionalism
on the job from experienced mentors. As an entry level technical writer, if
you happen to get employed where there is an experienced STC member to show
you the ropes, you're very lucky. Raise your hands all those who have
horror stories to tell about "first jobs" or from the other point of view,
working with writers who have had no orientation to the profession.

That's why a list like this, the STC itself, and networking with other
writers any every opportunity are things I always recommend to enthusiasts
who want to be writers. Join professional groups. Keep learning technique
and process. Write, write, write. Talk to other writers about their
experiences and their attitudes about their work. Experienced writers
should be willing (and most are) to mentor those who want to enter and
progress in the discipline. Much of what we've learned can only be taught
by rigorous experience -- there's few short cuts -- but at least we can be
helpful in pointing people in the right direction.

Beth Agnew
Senior Technical Writer, InSystems Technologies Inc.
65 Allstate Parkway, Suite 100 Tel: (905) 513-1400 ext. 280
Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 9X1 Fax: (905) 513-1419
mailto:bagnew -at- insystems -dot- com Visit us at:

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