RE: Internships (was: Breaking into the tech writing job market)

Subject: RE: Internships (was: Breaking into the tech writing job market)
From: eric -dot- dunn -at- ca -dot- transport -dot- bombardier -dot- com
To: "Vincent Marianiello" <vincent -dot- marianiello -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2006 12:34:10 -0400

Bonnie has already given an excellent reply that I fully agree with, but I
can't help myself and resist posting my own...

"Vincent Marianiello" <vincent -dot- marianiello -at- gmail -dot- com> wrote on 08/09/2006
05:16:17 PM:
> But, in fact, technical writing uses a special style.

Funny, you've never had a job in Technical Communication yet you know the
facts. Don't knock or underestimate the importance or difficulty of
"style". If it was just a "special style" then many famous authors would
produce novels across genres. But I doubt Hemingway could have written an
acceptable novel for those that are fans of Huxley. Or vice-versa.

There is absolutely no such beast as "just writing". All "styles" may be
based on the same language rules and skills in so far as the written
"prose", but the background information, audience, resources available,
and style are all hurdles that not everyone who can write can master.

> It's not akin to learning another
> language, as some of you are suggesting.

Well actually, if you were writing documentation for an API it *WOULD* be
learning another language, but I digress.

> The difference is on style and
> presentation, which, of course, depends on your audience and rhetorical
> situation. Technical writing tends be more concise, full of concepts and
> lacking muddy prepositional phrases. A skilled writer can write on any
> subject (given they do the research) and in any style (given they have
> skill.)

Yes, if handed the required information on a silver platter and given a
completely prepared explanation of the system to document and the audience
requirements. But, without some background knowledge of your own how will
you write about technology without over-taxing and annoying the SMEs?

> So the question about my "experience" seems (to me) to be a bit

You complain that you can't land a job without experience, yet you think
enquiries about your experience are irrelevant? Wow.

You're a good writer, Tech Writing is *JUST* writing, so you deserve a
job? There's more to it than that buddy.

> web production, specialized in teaching with technology, editorial

Well, drop the claims of entitlement and you've certainly got some base
experience to work with and some areas to target.

> What I am an expert in is writing. Which,
> in my mind, would qualify me for an entry level tech writing job.

Well, looks like you have to expand your mind a little. What are your
technical skills? When I graduated, my middling-to-upper writing skills
and a heavy reliance on spell checkers coupled with a B.Eng Mech that
included a technical writing class trump all of your English degrees and
writing skill to land any entry level techwriting job. Unless you can
demonstrate a knowledge of electrical, pneumatic, or hydraulic systems, or
computer languages and programming, or automotive systems, or
transportation, or whatever technical skills and knowledge are required in
the industry you're looking for techwriting work in.

With your expert writing skills, can you, from basic schematics and
assembly drawings, explain the operation, maintenance, and overhaul of a
complex system? Can you determine which information is required by
mechanics, what shop practices they are likely to need to know, can you
identify the tools required?

If you can't, can you demonstrate that you have the technical ability and
aptitude to quickly get up to speed in the technology, standards
practices, and terminology of the industry for which you wish to write
technical documents? Even if you want to become an editor, you'll need a
good level of technical skill/knowledge to ensure that documents are
technically valid as well as well written.

I still believe that given a choice, I'd rather teach an intelligent and
technically driven person who is a good/decent writer how to understand
the technology than try and teach a very bad writer how to write well.
I've even got the experience as a college writing tutor to back me up on
that. The absolute key is that the writer be *technically driven*.
Consider too that the person with the technical knowledge doesn't have a
very large hurdle to clear to become a very good technical writer. You, or
any other "expert" writer, might require months or YEARS of experience or
courses to fulfill the TECHNICAL part of being a good technical writer. A
technician, programmer, or engineer, if they don't already write decently
may only require a single technical writing course to fulfill the writer
part of the job and in a matter of weeks or months trump a decade or more
of language and writing study.

The big dollars aren't paid in technical writing for the writing skills.

Good luck on the job hunt. Considering the bridges you burned in the
technical writing community you may need as much luck as you can get.

Eric L. Dunn
Senior Technical Writer


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RE: Internships (was: Breaking into the tech writing job market): From: Vincent Marianiello

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