Research Groups and Government Agencies as Employees of Technical Writers

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Heavy industries, such as those mentioned above, find technical writers indispensable. Another source for technical writing positions is with research organizations. Some are part of the companies themselves, some are supported by universities, and others are privately endowed.

Regardless of their management, the research groups have one thing in common. They are looking for new ways of doing things, new products, new communication systems. Frequently their efforts do not show results for many years, but they generate an incredible flow of reports, science and engineering papers, and presentations before scientific and engineering audiences.

Think of the exploration going on to obtain new sources of energy, whether in oil, coal, or solar power. One organization involved in energy research is the Jersey Production Research Company. Jersey Production Research, an affiliate of Standard Oil Company, is concerned with better methods of manufacturing old products and ways of producing new ones. To quote one of its brochures:

Most fields of physical science and engineering are represented in our employees' backgrounds. You will enjoy working with these people and will benefit from the experience. Our people come from ninety colleges and universities, including schools in Paris, Berlin, and Bern. On the basis of their highest attained degree, 42 percent of our professional people have Bachelor's degrees, 27 percent have Master's degrees, and 31 percent have their Ph.D.

If you were a technical writer for Jersey Production Research, you would be associated with engineers and chemists trying to 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.

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 commission, 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 manuals that must accompany every project before its results can be implemented. Another group is the Technical Information Office, which is responsible for the preparation of technical papers for publication in journals, for answering inquiries of a technical nature that are received by Mound Laboratory, and for editing and publishing periodic and progress reports.

Government research groups are not necessarily run by large companies. Some government agencies are to be found in the mil-itary itself, developing weapons, missiles, and equipment for space exploration. Harry Diamond Laboratories, part of the U.S. Army, is one of these agencies, as is the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, California. These military agencies provide numerous career opportunities for civilian and enlisted technical communication specialists.
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