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What do you NEED to be a technical writer? To me you need (forget the
order - we've been there already more than once!):
1 To be able to write. This isn't simply about good language
skills - we've all come across enough 'well written' manuals to know
that that is not enough. It's not just the language, we need to have a
whole host of other writing skill (as mentioned in a previous post) -
who the audience is, what they need, how to provide it, what level to
pitch it at and so on.
So how do we get it? Hopefully we'll get the basic (language) skills at
school and expand them though college (whatever the degree) but we DO
need to expand them.
2 We need to know WHAT we're writing about - we need to have the
level of expertise that is required to be able to write meaningfully for
the audience. The level needed can range from minimal (e.g. a user guide
for a very simple piece of software where our expertise in using it is
enough) to real expert (e.g. documenting complex software for
engineers/programmers where we need to get down and dirty and understand
the code itself) and just about everything in between. Linked with (1)
we need to know how to 'temper' out expertise and provide the
information needed, not what we know!
That, in a (very small!) nutshell is what we need to be TWers - so where
do we start? In many ways it's like any other job - you start at the
bottom and work your way up. If you're an engineer you may start as an
apprentice, go to junior engineer, to engineer and on to senior
engineer, progressing up the ladder as you SHOW you can do the job. You
show you can do it by DOING IT, possibly picking up various
accreditations along the way.
For a TWer, you follow essentially the same route - start as a
junior/trainee writer and work your way up. For an engineer you may get
your job because you've a degree in electrical engineering or whatever
it may be. For a TWer, you MAY have a TW certificate to get you started
but, if you've not gone that route you'll need something to SHOW you can
write - your portfolio. When you're starting this can be almost anything
- manual for open source software, etc. Something to get your foot in
the door and then you start to learn - from your peers, this list,
anywhere you can.
(It's a bit like your driving test - once you pass and are driving
regularly, that's when you become a good driver!)
Sr. Technical Writer
damienb -at- asg -dot- com
8, Lagan Bank Road
Belfast, N. Ireland BT1 3LR
Tel: +44 (0) 28.9072.3124
Fax: +44 (0) 28.9072.3324