Re: Mentors needed (long)

Subject: Re: Mentors needed (long)
From: Dianne Blake <write-it -at- home -dot- com>
To: Susan Loudermilk <slouderm -at- falcon -dot- tamucc -dot- edu>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 18 Sep 1999 15:33:25 -0700

I think every introductory course should let the students know what they
will encounter when they reach the "real" world. I once took a set of
classes only to drop out after 3 courses because it finally dawned on me
that my idea of what the job would be like, and what the actual job
would be, were completely different. I would have been miserable at that
profession. It is also important to give them an idea of how much money
they can expect to make.

If you've been following some of the other threads on TECHWR-L, one of
the most reflected ideas is that technical writing is more than writing.

Here are just some of the things a technical writer has to know how to
do to some degree or another:

* Requirements: be able to determine what the requirements are
including audience, formats, timeframes, style, templates, etc.
This information can come from many sources and the writer has
to understand how to get this information and how to interpret
it and in the case of templates, how to use them.

* Tools: Don't get this group of people started on their favorite
tools. A writer has to be familiar with the tools of the trade
including the appropriate wordprocessor, DTP program, graphics
and screen capture programs, on-line resources for research,
and many more - depending upon the project and organization.

* Accessing and Retrieving data: the type of data one receives
is always slanted depending upon the source of the data.
Programmers and marketing experts tend to have differing slants
they want reflected in the document.

In addition, the writer needs to understand how to best
interview his list of experts. Then the writer usually has
to do fact checking (which in the software world means accessing
and working with a copy of the software and/or technical

* Project Management: A writer has to understand how to overcome
obstacals, how to manage his time, how to schedule changes to
documents and how to work with other organizations in a timely
manner. The writer also has to made sure her scheduled dates
dove tail with other involved organizations.

* What to do when things go wrong, or whe they can't get
cooperation from their sources. When to try another approach,
or when to call in the project manager.

* Business Management: If the writer is freelance, she has to get
involved in contracts, pricing, proposals, etc. This is a whole
science in itself.

* Human characteristics: IMHO a technical writer has certain
characteristics that make them good writers.

1) Humility - even if they can not really muster up humility,
they need to be able to appear humble to others. That is to
say, they have to be able to take critisim and approach SMEs
with respect. They also have to be able to admit they are
wrong at times.

2) They have to love a puzzle or mystery - this job is one of
ferreting out the details (and sometimes they are not obvious
at all).

3) They have to love detail - the coordination and organization
of detail.

4) The ability to work with others - often a technical writer is
thrown into an evironment where no processes, no
documentation, no specifications and no templates exist.
This means they have to rely upon others for all their data
and they have to work with many personality types.

5) The ability to work with change - At least in the software
arena, I find the product often changes quickly, and
sometimes with little warning. I've come into the office on
Monday a few times to find that a client emergency happened
over the weekend. The developers made a significant
functional change and installed it. I had to immediately
drop everything and write new release notes and modify the
end-user documentation and operations manuals.

I guess many people see technical writers as people with their heads in
big thick books (have you seen the computer books lately?), that can
work alone most of the time. But in reality, it is a ever changing
landscape, of people, tasks, schedules, and technical writing abilities.
It takes courage and curiosity to do this job. But it is rewarding. I
save all the e-mails I get that say thank you, or I love your manual so
much that it is in my top drawer (it's my product bible).

I hope this helps.
- Dianne Blake
write-it -at- home -dot- com

Susan Loudermilk wrote:
First, any tips you could give me as a teacher, such as what types of
introduction to technical writing do you wish you had had, or what types
of things did you do in school that have helped you most in your job.

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