What *is* enough?

Subject: What *is* enough?
From: George Mena <George -dot- Mena -at- ESSTECH -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 16:10:52 -0700

Elna Tymes wrote:

...if you're going to be writing about the pharmaceutical industry
products, understanding the nature of proteins and certain
kinds of filtering agents and what impact the term "Adverse Event" has
on a product are equally basic to the industry. Anyone who's hired into
a pharmaceutical company has to learn those things eventually. If you're
lucky enough to be in an environment where people can take the time to
teach you, great. However, increasingly a basic understanding of
biochemistry is necessary for any kind of technical work in that

...the client is quite reasonably going to look for people who know how
to speak to these customers, meaning that the tech writers had better
know a lot about the inner workings of that industry. To charge that
such a company is myopic and headed for bankruptcy because it won't take
the time to train junior or intermediate writers, or senior writers who
don't have the
right credentials, is nothing but sour grapes. UNLESS, of course, the
marketplace simply doesn't have people with the right credentials. (And
right now, a lot of biology majors are finding they can make a decent
living as medical/pharm. tech writers.)

And I respond:

So we add yet another set of parameters when we talk about what should
constitute a tech writer's skills set. The BA in English, Journalism or
Technical Communications is not enough. Knowing how to write well is
not enough. Knowing how to read and write code in a high-level language
such as C or C++ is not enough. Understanding how APIs work is not
enough. We now add Biochemistry 101.

Industries take downturns, sometimes very *steep* downturns. So-called
"hot" industries wind up going cold and people wind up having to find
related work in other industries. How well will the biology majors
who've enjoyed the decent careers as medical or pharmaceutical tech
writers today fare tomorrow transition into other industries? Granted,
the drug companies are probably going to be with us for awhile (the
health care providers and the human condition will see to that), but I
don't think any tech writer wants to think the work experience in one
industry for an extended period will actually be held against him or her
when trying to cross over into *any* other industry.

What *is* enough of a skills set for a technical writer?

This is hardly sour grapes. If anything, I think you've actually
validated my original contention that it's time to consider what would
constitute adequate post-graduate tech writer-in-training programs.
Such programs will probably need to be multidisciplinary in nature.
First, however, they need to come into existence, which was my point in
the first place.

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

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