Re: Programs new tech writers should know

Subject: Re: Programs new tech writers should know
From: "Wittel, Teresa J." <WITTTJ -at- NCSLINK -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 16 Oct 1997 13:34:00 -0700

Dear Emily,

You ask several specific questions, for which I commend you. When using
this listserv, I've noticed that people get better responses when they
show personal initiative and explain what they have previously done to
resolve the issue. I'm responding onlist vs. privately because I've
noted several other new tech writers that are asking similar questions.

First, welcome to tech writing. Most tech writers learn by the seat of
their pants. Either they learn a program that an employer is using, or
they get terminated. It's part of your skill package to be able to
learn an application quickly without formal training. Most of us do it
all the time at first. You have many resources available at your local
bookstore, too. (Don't forget that //www. has LOTS of
books.) Eventually, you get to the point where you are familiar with
most of the major applications. However, you forget stuff, too. I
haven't used Interleaf for at least 3 years and I would need a couple of
days to get back to speed should I have to use it again. Still, that's
better than someone who never has seen it.

If there is a specific position you are aiming for (always a good idea),
call the manager and introduce yourself. During the conversation, ask
what applications they use and what they look for in an applicant. This
is the "getting to know you" stage. Do not ask for a job at this point.
If there are openings, the manager will probably let you know. If you
are unfamiliar with the specific application, ask whether experience in
a similar application would be acceptable. Often if you know RoboHelp
(or whatever), and they are using FrontPage (or similar), the manager
will still consider you for a position. Your previous experience with
the ill-tempered manager is atypical. Most managers are willing to
help, unless you are CONSTANTLY badgering them with questions that you
could have resolved yourself. They are paying you to do this, after

If you do not have a specific job in mind, check with a local
contracting office. Very often, these contracting firms offer free (or
for a small fee) CBT training in applications that new clients may need.
They welcome hardworking people who are willing to learn new stuff.
You have marketable skills, as Ventura, Word and Lotus Notes are major
applications. Do you know WordPro (or AmiPro) - they are also Lotus
applications and use similar icons, phrasing, etc.?

If you are just looking for other major applications that writers use -
you can add Interleaf Publisher and WordPro to the list below.

Hope some of this is helpful.

Teresa Wittel
mailto:WITTTJ -at- ncslink -dot- com
Sr. Information Developer
NCS Education, Mesa AZ

From: Emily Cotlier
Subject: Programs new tech writers should know
Date: Thursday, October 16, 1997 1:40PM

I'm a budding technical writer in the Tech/Sci Communications M.A.
program at Drexel University. Lots of technical writing job ads specify
RoboHelp, Doc-to-Help, FrameMaker, and FrontPage as programs which
the job applicants must know. Where can I learn about these programs
without spending a lot of money (which I don't have)? Are there any
other programs a seriously aspiring technical writer should learn? I am
competent in MS Word, WP, LotusNotes, QuarkXpress, and Ventura; I've
dabbled in creating web pages and working with scans, screen
captures, and editing graphics on-screen.

I learned how important these programs are the hard way. I very briefly
had a technical writing job where I was expected to learn Doc-to-Help
from scratch, without any training. I learned what the manual and
help could teach me--but I was stonewalled when it came to reformatting
the templates in a particular way, couldn't get through to their help
and my supervisor at the time flat-out told me not to expect any help
whatsoever from her or anyone else at the company. I could understand
that she was frustrated and wanted me to learn "on my own", but I did
not think that refusing to communicate with me was good management or
the way to solve the problem. Our interpersonal relations went downhill
from there so severely that, after consulting with the place's human
resources manager, I left.

This is a mistake I don't want to make again! I want to go into a
job/new place knowing at least the most important programs. Any advice
is welcome! FYI, I am in the Philadelphia area.

Thanks so much,

Emily Cotlier

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