It's "The Fit" That Causes Fits Among Us

Subject: It's "The Fit" That Causes Fits Among Us
From: George Mena <George -dot- Mena -at- ESSTECH -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 13:17:52 -0700

Folks, this is probably a new variant on a previously discussed thread,
but it sounds like we still need to talk a bit about how tech writers in
one industry can successfully cross over to another industry, even
though they may not necessarily have the same "credentials."

Issues for consideration:

1) Is the technology or service your company provides to the world at
large so highly specialized that "the powers that be" have decreed only
"the best of the best and brightest" in the specialized field should be
sought out and hired?

2) Exactly how practical is it to wait until "the right person" comes
along and what is the cost to the company while you're waiting for Mr.
or Ms. Right to show up?

I developed these issues and my response based on some of the comments
other users have already made. The complete list of attributed quotes
follows the commentary. Delete as desired.



There are excellent people who can otherwise adequately document the
technology or service if a particular company actually bothers to take
*some* time to educate their new hires on the technology or service. If
a particular company *doesn't* adopt this kind of forward thinking, I
believe their time in the marketplace going to end prematurely in
bankruptcy because of its own corporate myopia, and well it should (are
you listening, biotech, healthcare and software industries?). Makes me
not only wonder what some people use for decision making processes, but
whether they're even *capable* of them.

It's bad enough that the so-called "conventional wisdom" for tech
writers in the marketplace seems to be to specialize in one field only,
without the hiring authorities, such as they are, actually falling for
this sort of sludgy thinking. This is a ridiculous paradigm I not only
reject but would also banish from the universe forever if it were
possible. My contention is that if you can both understand the
technology or service and if you can write well, then there's a place
for you on the cutting edge of whatever needs to be documented and
specialized education be damned.

Similarly, it may also be time (if it's not already PAST that time) to
give some very serious thought to post-graduate tech writer-in-training
programs that are modeled after engineer-in-training programs, complete
with the professional license that industry councils such as IEEE
recognize planetwide. Regardless of the specific industry a technical
writer finds himself or herself in, one fact remains, in my opinion:
this profession we call technical writing supports a great many
industries that also include tradesmen. And this may even spill over
into the arena of those folks who call themselves programmers and
software engineers. And maybe it should, especially if you wonder what
in the world some programmer or developer was thinking when creating a
piece of code that actually belongs in a landfill somewhere.


Attributed quotes (delete this section as desired):

These questions were based on excerpts from folks who posted here
earlier. Their comments follow:

From Guy Cornett:

I'm the poor shmuck that replaced Wendy Lewis more than a year after she
left the industrial x-ray company. When I took the job in January the
company was more than 23 manuals behind. They had several customers
holding back partial payment until they received their manuals.

Sad to say nothing has changed. The only reasons we have a writer now
are customer complaints and the fact that I was downsized out of
engineering. Legal review? I have enough trouble getting the project
engineers to review the manuals.

From Lisa Comeau:

You either help them learn exactly what your company's definition of
"technical writer" is, take them under your wing to see if they can be
taught, or can their sorry butt, just like you have contingency plans
for all the above situations BEFORE they happen.

When interviewing a candidate for a position, ask QUALITATIVE questions,
and see if they are lying about their credentials, or they have just
misunderstood what their skill set is.

From Janice Gelb:

I also think that if you are going to be hiring someone to document a
highly specialized area that uses a particular vocabulary and concepts,
finding a writer who is already familiar with that area is a plus. I
recommend in that case that someone familiar with that area be part of
the interviewing process. If you haven't caught them in time, they are
now permanent employees, are decent writers whose only fault are that
they are not technical enough, and you have invested some time in them,
probably the best thing to do is to send them to classes on whatever
field it is that you're

From Carol Anne Wall:

I can write online help, procedure manuals, technical documentation,
etc. People rave about my work; it's detailed, accurate, and on-time!
I even have great rapport with programmers!!! (hee-hee!) But I can't
break into "real" technical writing field because:

1) I'm lacking a degree in English or Technical Communication, and
2) I've never had the title "Technical Writer"

It doesn't matter that I have 10+ years of experience, and that
everything I've learned I've done on my own. And it doesn't matter that
I'm looking in Master's degree programs in Technical Communication and
hope to enroll in 2000 when I have enough money saved up for the

We have an opening here in our Tech Writing department. I've created a
killer portfolio and a resume that highlights my talents. Heck, I even
won a local award with one of the online systems I've developed for this
company. But I expect that I'll get rejected by HR because I don't have
the right degree (it's in Natural Science). I AM circumventing HR by
giving my materials directly to the supervisor of the area. But they
still have to go through HR.

From John Gilger:

You have hit another sore spot for TWs: morons in HR. Degrees don't
mean a whole lot in a profession where performance is the bottom line.

George Mena
Technical Writing Consultant
George -dot- Mena -at- esstech -dot- com

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