Re: why are we doing this

Subject: Re: why are we doing this
From: John Kohl <sasjqk -at- SABLE -dot- UNX -dot- SAS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 2 Dec 1998 17:37:34 GMT

In article <B15A0DE524B8D111A26900805F0D6FFE0B1A3A -at- conesus -dot- roc -dot- westgroup -dot- com>,
"Gutierrez, Diane" <Diane -dot- Gutierrez -at- WESTGROUP -dot- COM> writes:
|> The recent discussion re. Anon's problem had me thinking. As a publishing
|> student who fell into tech writing by default, I am curious. What led you
|> people to do tech writing?

I love writing, but I'm a pragmatist. I want to make a decent living,
have some choice in where I live (which I probably wouldn't have had if
I had finished my PhD and taken the academic track), and I also like
doing something that has value in the business world, particularly when
it has to do with "cool" technologies. I did various types of business
correspondence and procedural writing for an airline before I got into
tech writing, so that gave me kind of a "bridge" from academic writing
to "real world," technical writing.

|> What are the biggest satisfactions and
|> motivators?

I enjoy proving that I can comprehend very technical information and
make it comprehensible and useful to others. That's a big challenge,
with big satisfactions as a payoff. I did not have a strong computer
background when I started out, but after 7 years I feel fairly
"technically sophisticated." I've worked only on software
documentation, but I have done a wide variety of types of documents, and
I've used at least 7 different operating systems.

|> Is the money really that good?

I'm not complaining.

|> What did you have to learn
|> (school, field, self training, on the job) that was most useful and
|> important in your work?

Believe or not, I think my linguistics background has been very helpful.
Because I have an extremely good understanding of English grammar and of
coherence in the linguistic sense, I can look at a very technical but
incoherent document and determine what MAKES it incoherent. And I can
figure out what questions I need to ask of the subject matter experts in
order to understand the subject matter myself and make it comprehensible
to others. Of course, I don't always work with incoherent source doc.
Sometimes I do write from scratch (e.g., if I'm documenting a user
interface that I can play with and figure out), or I start with a very
basic outline and ask questions or do research until I can fill in the

I also understand sources of ambiguity in English (again because of my
linguistics/grammar background), so I'm very good at writing with
translation and international audiences in mind (i.e., ferretting out
most of the ambiguities that would perplex translators as well as
grammatical structures and terminology that would be unfamiliar or
confusing to non-native speakers of English).

("So there" to all of you who don't think that understanding grammar is

Of course, many other types of training are useful, too, but I'll let
elaborate on those.

|> What do you see in the future for this field?

I don't know. Others on this list are undoubtedly more qualified to
answer that question.

|> What
|> are the different categories of tech writing? Thanks.

No time to try to answer that one right now.


John Kohl
Raleigh, NC

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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