Words of Advice for Technical Writers

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As a future technical writer, whether you are just starting your training or are planning to enter from another field, you should think in these terms:

  • See that you have enough science courses compatible with the area of technical writing in which you are interested-A series of communication workshops is offered by Colorado State University. The workshops are for individuals from science, industry, government, and business. The latest workshop included writing and editing, producing 35 mm slide presentations, video-tape editing and production, public relations, and technical communication. Obtain information from:
Colorado State University Department of Technical Journalism Fort Collins, CO 80523

Teaching Technical and Professional Writing, a working conference, has been sponsored by the University of Washington for some time. These topics have been featured: Approaches to Technical Writing, Course Design, and Style and Tone. The seminar offers an opportunity to work with nationally recognized teachers of technical writing. It has been designed to help practicing communicators and publication managers as well as teachers. Write:

University of Washington Scientific and Technical Communication Program 14 Loew Hall, FH-10 Seattle, WA 98195

An Institute in Technical Communication is held during the summer at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Park campus. It is sponsored by the Southeastern Conference on the Two-Year College. Representative topics include Teaching Audience Analysis, Technical Style, Computer Instruction, and Class-room Methods That Work. For information, write:

University of Mississippi Department of English Hattiesburg, MS 39401


Manufacturers of machines, instruments, and other industrial products spend millions on another kind of promotion. This is technical advertising. Sargent Welch Vacuum Products Company placed this ad in an issue magazine:

A Pump for Every Vacuum Range

You've got the vacuum requirements-we've got the pumps. Pick your own range and there's a Sargent Welch pump right there ready to go to work-from the famous Duo-Seal oil-seated rotary vane pump line to the ultra-high, Doctors are regularly visited by pharmaceutical salespeople who give them this literature plus free samples of the latest approved drugs. In a similar fashion, agricultural companies descend upon farmers with salespeople bearing advertising material to induce them to use their seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, animal feeds, and farm implements. Although this promotional material does contain a lot of factual, reliable data and information, it must, nevertheless, be classified as self-serving.

Many technical writers prepare sales or promotional literature for a large variety of merchandise such as automobiles, home appliances, and consumer electronics goods. Brochures are printed by the manufacturer for potential customers containing lots of technical data about the product they are considering buying. The brochure also will contain other information describing its virtues and attractiveness. This is best illustrated by what happens when you visit an automobile showroom to buy a new car. Not only does the salesperson describe the merits of the car you are interested in, but he or she also hands you a very attractive brochure describing its engineering, performance, safety, and appearance features. The salesperson then points out certain items in the brochure, hoping to make the car purchase irresistible.

Technical sales literature comes in many forms. One example is cited above about sales brochures for cars. Another could be a pamphlet describing the construction of a turbine for a government project. Or it could be information for a new product soon to be released to the industrial market. The publicity department of a company may handle all these activities-preparing news releases for trade journals, newspapers, and magazines, and brochures to be sent to potential customers. These written items usually combine sales appeal and technical information.

If you are engaged in preparing a sales brochure, the procedure is about the same as for other pieces of technical writing. First the project itself must be authorized, in this case, by management. Then a number of things take place, sometimes concurrently.

In general, the technical press-magazines, journals, and publishing houses-employs fewer writers. However, interest in this field has increased, and it is to the credit of publishing firms that they are realizing that second-best writing on technical subjects is not enough-that in a highly competitive field, they must employ technically trained writers. Concerning technical journalism, Vic-tor J. Danilov, Executive Editor, Industrial Research Magazine, has analyzed the situation this way:

More and more journalistic jobs are open to engineers and scientists. Some of the more common opportunities include: Science reporting for newspapers; professional and trade journal writing and editing; technical and industrial publicity work; science writing for radio and television; and freelance technical writing.

The growing number of openings in technical journalism is a reflection of the increased interest in engineering and scientific news at both the lay and technical levels. An interesting opportunity has arisen in some of the businesses that support large technical firms. Advertisers are just beginning to realize their full potential in the technical advertising field, and with this comes the realization that the technical writer is almost indispensable. The same thing is true of technical publicity. Advertising agencies are trying to locate technically trained writers or engineers with a flair for writing.
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