FW: Satisfaction (was ... Re: The value of technical writers)

Subject: FW: Satisfaction (was ... Re: The value of technical writers)
From: Lynn Perry <CLPerry -at- WALLDATA -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 31 Dec 1998 16:17:24 -0800

Robin Currier wrote: However, I was depressed by some of the responses,
indicating that not all
>technical writers find our profession as challenging and exciting as I do.
<snip> <paraphrase>
>technical writing requirements have changed a lot </paraphrase> </snip>

I've been a technical writer for 17 years. I heartily agree with Robin. When
I began, there were no classes for technical writers in colleges, the field
of Psychology served as the source for information design, tools for
creating docs were essentially electronic typewriters (I remember when being
able to change a single line before printing was a BIG DEAL). Fundamentally,
docs were technology-centered, and the organization of information focused
on technology rather than users of technology. Then, if you could write
coherently and you could gather information you needed from SMEs, you could
be a technical writer. Although these skills are still the top two ( in my
book), they are no longer a guaranteed entry into the field.

Andrew Plato wrote: Your boss is correct in some regards. Many writers are
<writers because they aspire no further. Half the writers I
<meet are writers only because they want to pay the bills
<and cannot get a job doing anything else. This might not be

The idea of "aspiring no further" is pretty denigrating to technical
writers, and I find it surprising coming from Andrew. His "technical"
writing on this forum, though occasionally inflammatory, is often
outstanding. I wonder what more than "outstanding" needs to be "aspired to."
I also find it difficult to believe that "half the writers [he meets] are
writers...[who] cannot get a job doing anything else." Because this is
Andrew's description of his experience, I cannot contest it. In my
experience, however, writers are writers NOT ONLY because they want to pay
their bills. Whatever we do for money necessarily includes paying bills.
However, the good technical writers I know have many choices of employment;
they choose technical writing for many reasons: love of the technology,
appreciation of clear information presentation, desire to be in a particular
industry, etc.

I chose technical writing NOT because I am a failed engineer but because I
appreciate clear communication. I have no aspiration (there's that word) to
become an engineer because I do not like the work I see most engineers
doing. I think it's interesting that embedded in the "technical writer" is
the assumption that "engineer" is the higher goal to aspire to. Because of
the emotional response this evokes in me, I won't carry this further on
list. Feel free to contact me off list if you want to talk about this more.

Kathleen Galvin wrote: I'd love to hear from others who are proud of what we
do and can articulate
>why. I think it would be useful for us all to hear because it gives us
>content with which to form rebuttals. Then we can speak eloquently when
>we're in situations like Robin's.

I'm glad you asked. I am very proud of my work. The technology is exciting
(automated database application generation), the work is challenging but not
impossible, I get a lot of exposure inside the company and out, I get to be
creative, I am pleased to point to existing documentation during discussions
of what should be explained in our help system (I particularly enjoy this,
and knowing that folks will be looking at my writing, I often ask them to
tell me what I left out or what could be done better -- I think it speaks to
the success of our help that their response is typically one of appreciation
and surprise that the content exists and is so complete).

When developing software documentation , I first put on my developer hat and
think about how the program works. I then take off the developer hat, put on
my user hat, and start writing. I've often been so involved in conveying an
idea that I'm surprised by the approach of 5pm. I've saved paragraphs that
are particularly clear (usually the before and after versions). I use these
to help me understand how the technology works or to serve as a starting
point to expand an overview. I read posts on this listserv (and others) to
help me to my job better. I have a huge folder of helpful information that I
can reference on everything from outlines and organization to tools and

The job is not perfect; there are days when the frustration of fluctuating
project requirements drives me nuts, but that's not unique to technical

In all, I really enjoy being a technical writer, especially now that our
focus is on the technology consumer rather than the technology. And with
tools and languages changing on a daily basis, I think it's an exciting time
to be here.

C. Lynn Perry
clperry -at- walldata -dot- com
Opinions expressed are mine alone
Wall Data Incorporated, Seattle WA
Some days it doesn't pay to gnaw through the straps

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