Re: Subject Matters (was English Majors, etc. etc.)

Subject: Re: Subject Matters (was English Majors, etc. etc.)
From: Mike Buckler <mbuckler -at- IINET -dot- NET -dot- AU>
Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 10:21:21 +0800

AP> In my experience, people who like technology (or whatever subject
AP> matter they are documenting) and like to learn new things make the
AP> best tech writers. There are plenty of fantastic writers with no
AP> college degree or completely unrelated degrees (like mathematics).
AP> What they lack in education they easily make up for in curiosity and
AP> experience.

AP> If you do not like or understand your subject matter, then it is
AP> impossible to write about it in a truly intelligent manner.

I completely agree. A natural curiosity about things is an absolute
must. Technology moves so fast and authoring tools change so rapidly
that an ability to keep up is very important.

In my experience programmers and engineers have a *very* low tolerance
of writers who are at technical level substantially below theirs.
Remember, someone with a degree in electrical engineering and a
deadline to meet doesn't want to spend time with a English graduate
explaining the basics of electricity.

This means that you have to spend your own time learning new stuff. In
my case this means between 5 and 15 hours per week for which I don't
get paid.

For example, at the moment I'm teaching myself the basics of Java
programming, not so that I can make a living as a programmer, but so
that I can hold a reasonable conversation with the people I'm working
with. I don't have any kind of degree in computer science or engineering but
Java is an emerging technology and if you want to keep up then you
must put the time in.

When I hire a technical writer I look for someone who has:
1) Industry experience.
2) A proven ability to learn quickly, not just memorise and recall for an exam paper.
3) Can show examples of documents they've written (and prove they
are the author).
4) Can use the tools which they claim they can use.
5) A maturity that allows them to work with people of all ages.

Nonsense with perfect grammar and spelling is all very well for
marketing material, but when it comes to technical manuals, if the
audience senses that the writer is floundering then the book gets left
on the shelf.

Best regards,
Mike Buckler

mbuckler -at- opera -dot- iinet -dot- net -dot- au
Mobile: 0412 421 201

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