The technical writer who is working in the journal field is usually required to edit someone else's work and prepare articles for publication. In doing this, the writer works closely with the author, restructuring ideas and checking grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Eventually, the technical editor may be asked to write original articles in some specialized fields. A brief discussion of the different categories in the technical magazine market should help illustrate the variety of career opportunities available.
Journals. First are the journals, sponsored by professional societies. You are probably familiar with a number of these-you may even belong to a chapter of an engineering society, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Practically every professional association publishes its own journal. Aerospace America is self-descriptive, as is the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. Two of the better known ones You should take a look at the directories put out by the United States Civil Service Commission, in the section entitled "Federal Careers." This publication contains two descriptions of federal careers for writers:
Public Information Specialist. In this category are writers who not only collect information about the many activities of the com-mission, but who also write and disseminate information about the many programs available in federal government. As an information specialist, you could be involved in writing for a variety of public communications media, including newspapers, television, and magazines.
Writer-Editor. This job should appeal to you if you have substantial knowledge in the areas of engineering or science. The federal civil service employs writers and editors to produce articles, press releases, periodicals, pamphlets and brochures, speeches, and scripts for radio, television, and film.
As a writer-editor for the federal government, you would research the subject to be described, select the information to be included, and write or edit the final manuscript. Many of the writer-editors in this group specialize in technical fields such as engineering, science, or the social sciences.
We have just described what may be called internal information in government agencies. But there is a second classification of government writer whose job involves strong industrial contacts. Some government agencies work so closely with private companies that it is hard to distinguish between the two. One example of this relationship is the Mound Laboratory at Miamisburg, Ohio, operated for the U.S. Department of Energy by the Monsanto Research Corporation.
Mound Laboratory is in the forefront of energy research, providing leadership in such areas as polonium technology, thermal diffusion, and reactor fuel studies. Because its research is so complex and extensive, Mound Laboratory has a need for many skilled technical writers. One writing group is responsible for the preparation of the improve current methods of extracting oil from underground rock strata; with electrical engineers designing special instruments for oil exploration; with physicists studying how sound waves travel in the earth, the patterns of electric currents, and the changes in the earth's gravitational field; with mechanical engineers trying to determine the oil-producing capabilities of geological formations; and with mathematicians using high-speed computers to predict how well and how much oil pools would produce. As a technical writer, you would be in a publications department geared to support all this new and exciting research.
Some research organizations are not affiliated with large industrial concerns. A special type of the research institute is exemplified by Battelle Memorial Institute. Battelle contracts with both industry and government to develop scientific studies of many kinds on its own. It is not a consulting firm or a testing laboratory; it is devoted to research, with a staff divided into approximately fifty operating divisions. To name these divisions would take too long, but some that are representative perform research in astronautics, communications science, environmental science, environmental systems, gas technology, cancer studies, lubricant technology, paper technology, textiles, welding, and forest products. You can see that the scope of activity for a technical writer associated with Battelle is almost endless.
Many universities also have large research organizations that are heavily dependent on government contracts. One of these is the University of Dayton Research Institute; another is Lawrence Livermore, affiliated with the University of California.
Government units employing technical writers usually fall into two categories: federal and state groups that use technical writers for their own work, and agencies that work closely with companies and industries.
The electronics industry employs many technical writers. One of the first to feel the need was the Northrop Corporation. If you were to work for Northrop, one of the divisions to which you could be assigned may deal with avionics. This is a comparatively new word, but in ordinary terms, avionics refers to those parts of an aircraft concerned with how the plane gets from one place to another, how the flight crew can communicate with various planes, and how the plane is controlled while it is in flight. Because it is so technologically complex, a great mass of reports and papers is generated by technical writers in this branch of electronics.
The publications staff at Northrop became very large shortly after World War n. Today it numbers well over one hundred- with supporting personnel consisting of illustrators, parts cataloged, word processor personnel, and others.
IBM and Northrop are only two of the many industrial companies throughout the United States that employ large numbers of technical writers.
One of the areas in which these companies use technical writers is in internal communication. In such large companies, it is essential that the employees on all levels and at all locations be kept informed about what is happening in their company. This information is circulated by a variety of communication techniques such as in-house newsletters, fax machine memoranda, and internal group meetings.
General Electric Company provides its scientists and engineers with a wide range of supporting services. The need for technical writers and editors at GE is demonstrated in this statement:
General Electric is one of the largest single sources of technical papers for engineering and scientific journals. Employees are encouraged to publish technical work, but at the same time are relatively free from pressure to prepare routine reports.... General Electric scientists and engineers are encouraged to attend and participate in meetings of professional societies.
Implicit in this statement is the role of the technical writer, relieving the company engineers of routine reports and aiding in presenting articles and professional papers.