Several trends in professional education can be seen. Companies and other organizations are showing greater interest in graduates with master's degrees. An advanced program of this sort gives you the time to acquire more skills. It is frequently a step toward a supervisory or management job. Personnel interviewers tell us that they are always looking to the future: Do the candidates for a job have the characteristics and skills that will favor promotion into managerial positions?
WORD PROCESSING AND E-MAIL
Over the last fifteen years or so, the word processor has made the job of the technical writer and editor more effective and productive. Often these word processors are part of computer linkups with graphics and production, so that the technical editors can submit changes directly to the production department without ever leaving their desks. No more is the editor thought of as a lone individual blue-penciling someone's manuscript.
Word-processing programs and systems can index texts, incorporate proper headings, integrate visuals, check for spelling errors, update product names and numbers as well as client names, and turn out a clean copy as soon as the final editing task is completed. Combined with a laser printer, camera-ready copy often makes outside typesetting unnecessary.
Proofreading and making copy changes or corrections can be done more quickly and efficiently, since no time is lost waiting for proofs to come from the typesetter.
Add a modem to your computer, and the job of the technical writer and editor is made even easier. In addition to the powerful research tools the Internet provides, e-mail has become one of the most expedient ways to communicate. Employers can e-mail large text files to their writers in a matter of minutes. Writers can then transfer the files to their word processing programs- and e-mail changes or questions back and forth with their editors.
GRAPHICS AND MULTIMEDIA
As companies compete to sell their products, they try out new techniques. Some of these are improved graphic presentations and the use of slides, movies, and other media devices. These media formats do not necessarily take the place of the written word; they complement each other. The result is that the technical writer is frequently called on to extend his or her technical communication skills to media communication.
In order for you to become as versatile as possible, our advice is to learn all you can about graphics and multimedia presentation. Take courses while you are in school; if you are already employed, contact the media people in your organization.
Multimedia presentation is a fairly complex technique. In a small company you may be the only technical communicator. But don't think that your job will be confined to editing reports. You may be called on to prepare presentations for sales meetings, for speeches being delivered at professional meetings, and for in-company training programs. You should be prepared well beyond the necessary courses in writing.
FILM AND VIDEO SCRIPTING
We are all familiar with these new methods of carrying information-audio and videotapes, cassettes, and films. Yet few of us are aware of the preparation that must be made before such media can be seen or heard. Someone has to prepare a script or scenario before it can be put into an electronic device, and many companies use technical writers for this job. And, as more devices for audio and video instruction are perfected, the involvement of the technical writer will increase.
An article in Byline, the Chicago chapter newsletter of the Society for Technical Communication, titled "Making Visuals Speak to Your Audience," focuses on the contribution of the scriptwriter. Videos are an increasingly popular educational and training tool. Mary Morse writes: "The technical communicator can quickly assume the role of the scriptwriter by using many of the skills used to develop tutorials, operating procedures, and user manuals.... The same steps used to develop technical documentation are also used to develop a video."
Just as a knowledge of photography is an asset in preparing articles for magazines, familiarity with film direction and production is important in the scripting of a video.