Skills and breaking into tech. comm.?

Subject: Skills and breaking into tech. comm.?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Melanie Burrett'" <wirren -at- golden -dot- net>
Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2000 11:20:45 -0400

Melanie Burrett (welcome to the list!) is <<...trying to get into the field
of technical writing... Will having a B.A. in
Classics hinder me in any way?>>

Maybe. If you've been writing for an academic audience for any length of
time, you've learned a whole host of conventions and styles that are
completely inappropriate for the typical audience for technical
communications. (It's not that "English majors and other artsies" can't
write; it's generally that nobody reminds them that they're no longer
writing for their brethren and sistern. <g>) That's only a problem if you're
not able to learn to switch writing styles for different audiences. Pick up
a software manual, read a chapter, then immediately read your latest term
paper. Other than the fact that both are nominally in English, do you see
any overlap in styles?

On the plus side, if you've learned to organize an argument coherently and
present it clearly, the degree will be an asset to you, since it sets you
head and shoulders above most engineers and programmers, and all
pointy-haired managers. <g> And the ability to decipher academese should
prove useful when you start talking to engineers; once you've learned a
second language, the third often becomes much easier to learn. Moreover, you
can stand toe to toe with a truculent engineer and trade jargon, word for
word. They respect that. <g>

<<Would a recruiter consider Classics to be equivalent to a degree in

Depends. Some recruiters will type "englis" into their database of resumes,
and will thereby screen out anyone but English majors who can't spell. <g>
Some wouldn't recognize a Classic if it bit them ("do you mean the original
Star Wars?"), and will screen you out on that basis. Others still actually
stop to think about what skills you're likely to have learned in the degree.
Your cover letter may be the "make or break" factor here; if you're applying
for a job that specifies an English degree, then make sure your cover letter
emphasizes how your Classics degree overlaps with the skills learned in an
English degree. Not everyone will read a cover letter, but those who do will
at least have a chance to think about you before deciding you don't fit the

<<I just bought a book to teach myself FrameMaker and XML. Does it matter
*where* I acquire these skills?>>

Nope. Just so long as you have the skills by the time you show up at the
interview and someone asks you to show what you know. Two pieces of advice:
pick up Word 97/2000 skills too, since that doubles your chances of landing
a job, and buy the software now, while you're a student; student pricing on
most software represents an enormous discount over retail prices. OK, a
third bit of advice as a lagniappe <g>: don't oversell your skills. If you
haven't done more than use the software, don't claim you can lay out a
300-page manual correctly on the first try.

Good luck and welcome to the illuminati! <g>

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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