RE: TechWriting for Ph. Ds (longish)

Subject: RE: TechWriting for Ph. Ds (longish)
From: "krupp, marguerite" <krupp_marguerite -at- emc -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 1999 13:47:13 -0500

JRDerr was wondering about making a career change into our field, so I put
together a (by no means comprehensive) list of some things to consider when
contemplating a career change to technical communication.

Tech writing/editing is a craft. Nobody was born knowing how to do it. You
can learn how to do it, just as you have learned other things. Your degree
is proof that you are a good learner. Now it's time to apply those skills in
a broader arena.

Tech writing has many facets, as the people on this list can attest. Many of
us write documents for people who use computers. Others write for other
specialties and audiences. Some tech writers develop marketing materials,
instructions, training course, banking procedures, IRS information, etc. You
have a wide range of choices when you become a "technical writer." The more
specific you can be about what you like to write, the easier it will be to
find a job that satisfies you.

What pieces of technical communication have you READ (cover to cover)? Could
you do better for the specified audience? How? Take a chapter or a short
piece and try your hand at improving it. Not only will this give you a feel
for the work, but it will also provide you with a passable writing sample
for a job interview (and show some initiative, besides).

Read about the profession of technical writing as well as about the job of
technical writers and editors. Karen Schriver's book _Dynamics in Document
Design_ is a good place to start, I think, since it gives you a context.
Search the archives of this list for additional references.

Hook up with your local STC chapter and find out what people are talking
about. You didn't mention your preferred geographic location, but if you
look at the site:, you'll find a list of local chapters.

You might look to your hobbies and interests for fields that could use your
writing and editing expertise. Look at the underlying skills, not just the
superficial manifestations. Have you written any articles, for example, for
a skiing or gardening magazine? Or your local paper? The trade/popular press
is another market that will help you hone and market your skills and develop
your sense of audience.

As a hiring manager for 17 years, I had both good and bad experiences with
Ph.D. holders. It was more the person than the degree that made the
difference. I certainly wouldn't hide the degree on your resume, but I would
caution you that in the industrial world, it's not your strongest selling
point. Your track record, publications, and ability to absorb, translate,
and communicate vast amounts of complex information *are* strong points. If
you know desktop publishing tools, so much the better. If not, learn them.
It's easier to learn the technology than to learn how to write.

I teach graduate courses in tech writing at Northeastern University
part-time, and my students have had lots of different degrees, including
Ph.D.s. One of the key factors for success, I find, is how interested a
person is in getting information out of the heads of people who have it and
into the heads of people who need it. That challenge keeps the work fun.

Hope this helps.

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