Advancing on the Job Profiles in Technical Writing

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TECHNICAL EDITORS

At a meeting of the Society for Technical Communication, John L. Simons, a technical editor at Catalytic, Inc., began a speech this way:

The technical editor makes decisions constantly. Every time he reviews a draft, he must decide whether the words and their arrangement meet the quality criteria of his organization. He must decide whether to accept the material, reject it, or change it.

The pressure of deadlines brings an added dimension to the rejection vs. change decision. If the final draft has defects, the editor's decisions become critical.



The technical editor makes decisions all day long, every day. Admittedly, these decisions may be minor or routine, but there certainly are many of them. Strictly speaking, these decisions concern the form of a document rather than its substance. The technical editor is called on to decide whether the words in the draft versions are the correct words-to decide whether the words are spelled correctly and whether they are the best words for conveying the meaning.

Gibson A. Cederborg is a technical editor at the Naval Explosive Disposal Ordinance Facility at Indian Head, Maryland. Based on his experience and with some humor added, Mr. Cederborg's words make a fitting summary for this section:

We can say that the qualified technical editor is a sort of specialized jack-of-all-trades. He or she melds literature and science, understands people, implements management policy, is objective, steers steadfastly toward a goal, and remembers minutiae. He or she can adroitly answer the writer's questions such as:

Why are you taking the zap out of my draft?

Why are you asking me what the test objectives are for when I've already explained them in my report?

What is your reason for requesting a rewrite with different conclusions?

Why are you deleting the entire paragraph on potted electronic circuits?

The following want ads show that interesting opportunities await those who have the requisite skills.

VIDEO SCRIPTWRITER Chicago film and video company needs well-traveled freelance writers to write travel documentaries. Must have a minimum of 5 to 10 years of film or video writing experience. Competitive advances and royalties guaranteed to those contracted.

ADVERTISING COPYWRITER Interested in fine and performing arts, foreign films, documentaries, and business training programs? Chicago video distributor seeks versatile and self-disciplined copywriter with college degree and 3 to 4 years experience to write copy and assist with video scripts and preparation. Applicant must have excellent verbal and written English skills and be detail-oriented.

The following description is from an institute that serves a number of companies in the construction business.

Job Duties and Responsibilities:

Secure and write construction-related articles through visits to design offices, building sites, and individuals involved. Report construction news including that obtained at sponsored conventions.

Rewrite and amplify press release material received from outside sources. Edit construction-related papers and articles obtained from outside sources. Applicants should have experience or training in technical writing as well as in engineering and science.

To show the widespread opportunities in technical and professional writing, we are including a job description from a pharmaceutical company:

A leader in manufacturing and marketing pharmaceutical products on a worldwide basis, we seek a scientifically-oriented writing professional who can initiate, develop, and coordinate our various communication requirements as follows: prepare scientific reports from raw medical data, investigators' brochures, package inserts, medical abstracts, and product information summaries. Review manuscripts for publication and marketing pieces for technical accuracy. The successful candidate should have a B.S. in chemistry, biology, or pharmacy, plus three years' writing experience.

LARGE COMPANIES VS. SMALL COMPANIES

Large companies produce specialists. One person writes theory, another does parts lists, another coordinates with typists or illustrators. Most people are unaware of tasks outside their small area of activity.

In a smaller company-and this, it seems, is where many of the future jobs will be-a publications person, particularly a writer, must be a generalize In a smaller publications department, say from five to fifty people, a writer is usually responsible for his or her project from scheduling through printing. He or she must outline, write, lay out rough schematics and drawings, coordinate with clerical help, direct the photography of equipment, make parts lists, plan the final layout of the book, and prepare the printer's assembly sheets.

A manager from the personnel department of an electronics company states that the increased interest in technical writers can be attributed to a growth in the use of computers by relatively unsophisticated employers. Computers are now handy tools in many small businesses. While large companies can afford to employ computer specialists, in small companies the employees themselves must become the specialists with the aid of properly written instructions.

This, then, is another possible employment situation to explore. If you have any interest in data processing or computer science, try the smaller companies-and make sure that you include computers in your technical writing curriculum.

ADVANCING ON THE JOB

One of the biggest jobs in technical writing results when the writer becomes a supervisor or a department manager. Managers may supervise not only technical writers, but also the people engaged in illustration, graphics, photography, and distribution. In short, supervisors mobilize their departments to produce the specified printed matter, be it a report, manual, or technical article.

The industrial writer over the past few years has been at the center of advances in communication. When you join an organization these days, you find yourself involved in new methods of using graphics, new methods of transferring both ideas and facts to paper through word processing and computerized devices, and new methods of translating from one language to another.

The technical writer becomes a member of an organizational team. Frequently he or she knows, through sensitivity to communication, ideas that are only in embryo form in the company long before the engineer is aware of them. Through contacts with marketing people, the writer finds out what research is being done and plans for new products.
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