Re: I want to be a tech writer

Subject: Re: I want to be a tech writer
From: David Demyan <concord -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 1995 06:56:00 -0700

I'm always surprised when a bright candidate indicate a "serious" interest
in our profession and some of the answers they receive are quite negative
and seem intended to discourage. MOPO (My own personal opinion) is that
Technical Writing is a great field and, with a positive attitude,
inquisitive mind, some good education, and some real technical experience,
anyone can succeed (and let's not start that darwinism thread again). In
particular, I am concerned about the impression left by Gwen's post
(excerpts below).


Gwen Barnes wrote (in reply to a grad student (GS>) "seriously
contemplating an attempt at technical writing"):

GS> Would it be realistic to find work as a technical writer with the
GS> qualifications listed above or would it be better to get a degree in
GS> technical writing?

Gwen's answer:
>There's only one answer to that ... what are the results of your having
>tried to find work as a technical writer *before* investing the years
>and $$$ in higher education? If they all say "come back when you have a
>Ph.D. and we'll hire you at VP salary levels", by all means go for the
>degree. And let us know how it turns out so we can do it too <g>

My opinion:
The <g> lightens this up a bit, but the message for students is
unnecessarily harsh. A more constructive answer would be: Go for the
PhD for personal gratification if you want, but don't expect it to
enrich you. Grad students have been in academe for some number of
years and have problems visualizing life outside the ivy walls. They
need help understanding the real world of business, not dirision.

GS> What's the most marketable technical area to combine with
GS> a technical writing degree?

Gwen's answer:
>There is no magic course you can take that will guarantee success as a
>technical writer. Wouldn't it be a shame to find that out only after
>struggling for years in grad school and amassing huge student loan

My opinion:
And wouldn't it be a bigger shame if serious technical writing
candidates like this one would form an inaccurate, negative impression
of our profession and decide to go into something that turns out to
be less gratifying? Please don't discourage eager students from
considering technical writing as a career. There will be plenty of
opportunities for them (and us) in the decades to come because we
are into the so-called information age. Those of us lucky enough
to be in on the ground floor should encourage new entrants and
give them serious counsel regarding their education and early
career choices.

I have responded to the student privately and so will not repeat
my advice here regarding those critical choices. We all know the
basics: Good BA/BS, data processing or other technical specialty,
MA in technical writing or composition, and forget the PhD for now.
Try to break into the field with writing assignments of any kind
and begin to take on more and more technical material. And when
you have made it, try to forgive those who would have discouraged

Dave Demyan.

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