Some Success Stories in the Field Of Technical Communication

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The history of technical communication contains many stories of young men and women who are finding success in the profession. Most of them have broadened their scope and demonstrated that the communications field is a land of opportunity. The following case studies demonstrate the variety of occupations and education that these technical communicators possess.

One young man received B.A. and M.A. degrees from a leading university. In one company, he rose to a position in which he man-aged a thirty-person staff in four service groups: technical writing, advertising, public relations, and library administration. He then transferred to a research company specializing in optics and computer technology, where he reorganized the publications department. He is now the managing editor of a computer magazine. In addition to managing, he coordinates a team of editors to produce a monthly publication.

Another graduate is with the nation's largest manufacturer of telephone equipment. Before she received her degree in technical writing, she had been a full-time homemaker with a B.A. degree. She starred out in the company working on internal news releases and helping engineers write research papers. She is now a public relations specialist and frequently presents papers at national conferences and contributes articles to professional journals.



Still another graduate has become one of the best-known teachers of technical writing in the country. After graduating with a master's degree, he obtained his Ph.D. in communications. His interests range from communication theory to the application of electronics devices and from audiovisual aids to the teaching of technical writing.

Science institutes and research organizations always employ a number of technical writers. One woman is with the world's leading independent nonprofit scientific research and development institute as a senior writer in report and library services. Another is with the Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory. One young man has become head of the Science Writers' Group with General Motors Research Laboratories.

A CONTINUED NEED

The need for technical writers should remain steady because technical writing is not a routine job. As we have pointed out, new developments in communication are continually taking place, and practically every industry now realizes that communication is the pipeline of American business. Whereas college placement offices in the past had little call for technical writers, requests are now appearing with increasing regularity. It is the rare personnel manager who is not on the alert for technical writers.

GLOBAL INFORMATION

Companies also are looking for applicants who can handle worldwide documentation systems. It is now possible to sit at a console and send information all over the world. The technical writing student must be trained in the operation of these communication systems and on procedures in sorting out data and dealing with foreign countries that need the data.

If you examine the course listings of many colleges, you will find that an effort is being made to deal with what is called global information. Communication systems are now standard in many colleges, and courses in technical German, French, and other foreign languages are available. Most universities now offer computer competence training courses that take the "mystery" out of the computer. These courses have been designed for technical writers and others who will need to be computer literate.

THE COMPUTER AND DOCUMENTATION

The increased prominence of the computer has presented a new challenge for the technical writer-producing clear and usable computer-related documents. Lack of adequate documentation, that is, the written form of all the available information about a particular computer, computer program, or set of programs, is a major problem in modern industry. Documentation in its many forms-operating instructions, troubleshooting and repairs, user guides, etc.-is essential for management information on systems development and for proper coordination of subsequent phases of systems development and use. This documentation is often not thorough, nor is it done at the same time that the system is developed. Sometimes it is never done at all. The modern technical writer must be able to step into the complex documentation process and quickly and accurately prepare such forms as the job run manual, the job control language manual, the balancing and control manual, the keyprocessing manual, and the job scheduling manual.

Obviously, special training is necessary for the technical writer to function effectively in preparing systems documentation. At a recent International Technical Communications conference in Boston, an internship training program offered by Northeastern University, which trains technical writers for the computer industry, was described. The program offers computer science courses and training in writing operating instructions and programming reference manuals. This is just the beginning of the experience a technical writer must accumulate to function effectively in the area of systems documentation.

At the same conference, a Honeywell Information Systems representative predicted that the technical writer will change to reflect the nature of new forms of documentation. He predicted that a whole new type of technical writer who is deeply involved in computer programming and able to analyze databases, and who moreover is familiar with software psychology, human factors, and ergometrics (the study of the ability of humans to adjust to their environment), will evolve to fill the communications needs of the computer age.

The preparation of manuals for people unfamiliar with data processing and programming is a continuation of what has long been a major role of the technical writer-bridging the information gap between the technical and the nontechnical person. Robert A. Ward of International Business Machines Corporation, in another presentation at the Boston ITCC, said that technical writers should move into program design because they are best qualified to design the information package for the beginning user. IBM now hires technical writers to produce user manuals for their personal computers. The writer must learn what kinds of documents best fit the needs of the home computer buyer and what form would be best for these documents. This may require analyzing existing documents, interviewing users and designers, and generally converting technical and highly specialized language to language that the nonspecialist can understand.
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