Journals and Magazines as Employees of Technical Writers

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As we have discussed previously, 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 are the Journal of Chemical Education, published by the American Chemical Society, and Engineering Times, the journal of the National Society of Professional Engineers.

These journals have several common features: They usually publish papers based on original research, they operate with comparatively small staffs, and they are mainly read by people in the same field as the sponsoring society. Regardless of its individual makeup or audience, the technical journal must be edited by skilled technical writers.

One of our former students, for example, is presently the assistant editor of Theriogenology, an international journal of animal reproduction. She is responsible for editing (including visual aids) all articles submitted. Many manuscripts, especially some submitted by foreign authors, require extensive revision. She also indexes the volumes of the journal, compiles the front matter, and corresponds with authors and reviewers.

Commercial Magazines. Commercial magazines are found in technical libraries in every country. McGraw-Hill publishes more than thirty technical, scientific, and business magazines, including Product Engineering, Electronics, and Power. Another well-known technical magazine organization is the Penton Publishing Company, which produces Machine Design, among others.

Most editors of commercial technical magazines are interested in interviewing qualified technical writers for staff positions. These editors realize that in a journalism field as competitive as theirs they must inject new blood into their organizations and hire new people with good technical training and the ability to write. And they are willing to give them on-the-job training.

But you should realize that there are differences between working on journals and working on commercial magazines. The latter are money-making concerns, employing large editorial staffs. For this reason, the chances of obtaining a job with a McGraw-Hill magazine or with Capital Cities ABC, publishers of Iron Age, are greater than with such specialized publications as Journal of Nuclear Materials or Separation Science and Technology.

Company Magazines. One particular form of technical magazine is the company magazine, often called the house organ. This is put out by the company's publications department, not by a publishing company. House organs usually fall into two classes: some are for outside readers, others for internal readers. The RCA Engineer, published by the Research and Engineering Division of RCA, is a highly technical publication. On the other hand, The Oak Ridge National Laboratory publishes the Review largely for internal readership, and it is distributed to employees and others associated with the laboratory. The staff writes and edits a variety of articles: some deal with interesting people employed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory; others with work in progress in the research area. A magazine like the Review could offer an opportunity for a writer with a combination of training in technology and journalism.

Trade Journals. Another class of magazine is the trade journal. It is a little difficult to define a trade journal; however, it bears the same relation to a technical magazine that a trade bears to a profession. It features down-to-earth articles on how things are done, methods of production, and tips to readers in various trades. There are trade magazines for persons who service television sets, cover floors, repair roofs, install large-scale boilers, and for those in other occupations.

Books. Although we have been talking about magazines, we should not overlook the book publishing companies as potential employers. John Wiley and Sons is only one of several large publishers of engineering and science textbooks. These require editing by highly qualified people who act as liaison between the company and its authors. A graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's master's program in technical writing described his position with the McGraw-Hill Book Company this way:

I am a staff editor with the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology.... It is a fifteen-volume work containing articles by top-flight people in all fields-we have some 3,000 contributors in all.... I am handling most of the field of physics, plus aeronautical and nuclear engineering and space technology, as well as other miscellany.

More and more publishing houses that produce technical and scientific books are looking for specialists — technical editors who can help authors and who are familiar with the content, vocabulary, and audiences of technology.
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