Today, government contracts account for as much as 90 percent of the total business of many of the larger companies. Because of these contracts, the volume of progress reports, correspondence, and interplant communications has expanded enormously. The result has been that since 1940s, industry has attempted more and more to employ professional writers with scientific backgrounds in order to take the load of product explanation off the already overburdened engineers.
IBM exemplifies industry's heavy reliance on technical writing staffs. IBM is a very large company, manufacturing a wide variety of products in plants all over the world. IBM employs technical writers in each of its plant locations to write reports that are sent from one department to another. For example, reports are circulated between laboratory and top management and from domestic to international branches to prepare sales literature when the company puts such products as microcomputers and office equipment on the market; and to propose new ways of handling great masses of technical information.
IBM has offered many opportunities to young men and women to succeed in the world of technical communications. One of these is Anthony J. Sammartino, who, after he was demobilized from the U.S. Army in Europe, started and organized the publications department at IBM's Stockholm facility. With his fluency in several languages, Mr. Sammartino became a manager in the Far East Corporation of IBM.
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 II. 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.
Technical writers also have found a secure niche in the chemical industry. A technical writer for Allied Chemical Corporation describes a publications job as editing technical and safety analysis reports, describing design criteria, and helping to write and edit journal articles, papers, and brochures.
To illustrate the duties of technical writers working for such companies, it might be helpful to refer to a job description from one of the chemical companies. This company's technical writers are expected to:
- Look up in journals, magazines, and the publications of other companies the technical literature that would be useful to the service and sales groups.
- Direct the preparation of rough drafts by those technical people responsible for developing new products for the industrial market.
- Edit copy and supervise the layout and printing of technical literature.
- Prepare articles for technical magazines and speeches for technical conferences.
- Coordinate the total literature output of the research departments.
At the same time that you are thinking in terms of smaller companies, consider other places for employment. Some technical writers prefer to work for agencies producing services rather than goods. Technical writers have worked for such agencies as the Travelers Insurance Company in the capacity of senior technical writer in the engineering division. Another agency known to hire technical writers is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.