Educational Costs and Document Coordination of Technical Writers

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The cost of obtaining a degree in technical communication, as with other professions, depends on the kind of school you attend and where it is located. Liberal arts colleges tend to have lower tuition; colleges of engineering and science, higher tuition. State universities and community colleges are less expensive than private schools, more so if you are a resident of that state. College tuition and costs for room and board and other fees keep rising every year.

Graduate education is run somewhat differently from under-graduate education. The principal difference lies in the fact that a great many students can afford to go to graduate school only with financial aid-tuition scholarships and fellowships offered by colleges and industries. The scholarship provides tuition only; the fellowship usually contains a modest living allowance as well as the stipend for tuition. In addition, there are assistantships whereby the graduate student is assigned to a particular department to teach undergraduate classes, correct papers, or assist in laboratories. Sometimes, to fulfill these assignments, the graduate student is not permitted to take a full academic load. This means that it will take longer than two or three semesters to complete a master's program and may take twice as long. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to know in advance exactly how much the program will cost.

Costs of education vary from year to year and are affected by the amount of financial aid available in the form of state scholar chemistry, physics, electronics, mathematics, computer science, or engineering.


  • If you are still in high school, take all available writing and composition courses. Although courses in creative writing are fine for some forms of professional writing, it is important that your curriculum include courses in science and technology. If you are already familiar with the subject matter of science and engineering and join a company as a technical writer, you have an advantage over the young man or woman who is not trained in science.

  • If you have already graduated from high school and cannot plan on the four years required to earn a bachelor's degree, see what courses are offered by two-year community colleges or adult education programs in your area.

  • It may be that you cannot find a definite technical writing program in your own college. In this case, you could make up your own technical writing program by majoring in a science and taking writing courses and elective subjects such as mathematics, economics, and statistics.

  • If you have already graduated from college, consider the master's degree programs at various institutions. The plan you follow may be similar to Rensselaer's graduate program in technical writing, or it may be a program that you design yourself with a technical writing career in mind.

  • Think also in terms of the various journalism programs avail-able that have options in technical writing. They will give you good training for a career in the technical and scientific press.

  • Gaps in your training can be filled in by extension courses, both day and evening, and by correspondence programs.
A word of caution, however, should be added here in connection with correspondence courses. You should be sure that the school offering the course is well-established, that it is properly licensed, and that it operates under proper state and federal regulations. A potential employer must have confidence in the sources she will be able to read [in his or her language] the enclosed material. I came into the Kodak picture to help satisfy the needs of our Spanish-speaking customers.

As you look forward to receiving training as a technical writer, keep this advice in mind. If you have any facility in a foreign language, continue to develop it. You never know when it may be a skill that appeals to a prospective employer and will give you an advantage over the other applicants.

DOCUMENT COORDINATION

Many technical writers and editors move beyond technical writing into document coordination. In this role, which is frequently a management position, the former technical writer is responsible for the entire document production process, following each document from the initial meeting with the client-in which the document's specifications are determined and the various activities of the researchers clarified-to the final publication and presentation to the client. The document coordinator also is involved in any modifications of the document in response to suggestions from the clients. This function demands all of the interpersonal and managerial skills of the former technical writer/editor. Document coordination requires the ability to elicit material from the technical staff (who are often reluctant to write their research results), to interact with clients who may be uncertain of their actual needs in a particular document, and to work within personnel and budget constraints imposed by the company's administration.

The document coordinator often is required to visit job sites, help with data gathering and analysis, monitor the production of graphics, perform public relations functions on behalf of his or her company, control production costs, and perform a multitude of other activities. You may think these duties are beyond the scope of technical writing, but they quickly become great sources of challenge and satisfaction to the able individual.
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