RE: Breaking into the tech writing job market

Subject: RE: Breaking into the tech writing job market
From: "Mike Schmidt" <mschmidt -at- weathercentral -dot- tv>
To: "John Posada" <jposada01 -at- yahoo -dot- com>, "Peter Neilson" <neilson -at- alltel -dot- net>
Date: Wed, 9 Aug 2006 07:36:39 -0500

I wouldn't say that necessarily. I've seen manuals that were obviously
written by engineers who, first of all, couldn't write a sentence to
save their lives, and second, think they're writing to other engineers.
(I am constantly amazed by the countless college graduates who seem to
speak clearly but can't put a simple sentence together).

I'm currently writing to people who may be "experts" in their field
(weather), but honestly have trouble dragging and dropping files from
one directory (which I now must call 'folders') to another. I don't take
calls much, but I've spent 15 minutes trying to show a customer how to
move files between 'folders.' One in particular has a doctorate in his

Every tech writing job I've had (four major ones, so far) I was somewhat
unfamiliar with the product and got the job anyway. In the recording
equipment area, I knew how to run it, but not a thing about tweaking the
electronics. I'd find an engineer that was patient and had language
skills, he'd show me a process, and I'd write it. That way, it was a lot
plainer and clearer than if he'd written it (as if to another engineer
with similar experience). Plus, even I could get the volt-ohm meter out
and set it up.

Same goes for this weather gig. To me, clouds look like bunnies and
teddy bears... still, I've been here for 10 years and getting some good
feedback from customers regarding understandability and clarity.

So, I'll defend the "ignorance is desired" argument... although I'd
prefer a nicer name for it... :-)


Here we go again with the "ignorance is desired" argument and I don't
buy it, not one second. It's an excuse to justify not being skilled.

> > I use my lack of expertise on a product to help. I
> > figure that if I can understand it, I can make others
> > understand it. Others who also might not hold degrees
> > in the field. Right now, it's TV weathermen and women.
> > They're not necessarily computer literate, so my
> > directions (and my lack of weather knowledge) are basic,
> > easy to understand, and user friendly.
> Yes, yes, yes! When tech writers were hard to find and we
> were building them out of clay, this was one of the best
> things about the naive writer. We found it was better to

No, no, no!

Lack of skill makes a good technical writer? Hogwash. A good
technical writer is one who can intentionaly put themselves in ANY
level and write to that level. If you are an expereinced technical
writer who cannot write for the novice user, then you aren't a
skilled're one-dimensional and you are a "bad document
waiting to happen" writer.

OTOH, I'll take a super-experienced writer who knows how to put
themself in the place of the the novice user and INTENTIONALY write
to that level over a novice writer who can only write that way
because they don't know any better.

An experienced writer knows the pitfalls that a novice will
experience and can guide that novice user through the pitfalls...not
blunder along with them.

John Posada
Senior Technical Writer

"I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never
actually known what the question is."

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