Tuesday, August 23, 2011

User Guides and Press Releases and Web Sites, Oh, My!

So, last week (which seems like eons ago), reader Cat asked me in one of the comments to talk more about my technical writer experience. I said I'd focus on that in my next blog post...but I'm more swamped this week than I expected (You'd think I'd learn that the first week of the semester is a blur, no matter how prepared I thought I was ahead of time.)

So my answer will be abbreviated.

Cat asked: Would you recommend it?

My answer, as I said briefly in last week's Comments section: An enthusiastic YES, but...

Did I enjoy being a technical writer? Absolutely yes. Given the opportunity, I would probably consider doing some freelance technical writing during summers.

So why the "but..."? Because I worked for a small business (fewer than 50 employees) in a niche software industry. I was the company's sole technical writer during my tenure there. And the company used proprietary programming language and a proprietary documentation system. So I don't think my position was indicative of what is common in technical writing as a career field.

I had a great time. I worked with smart, talented people. In addition to writing and editing user manuals for customers, I ended up also writing press releases for distribution to trade publications, marketing materials for sales and promotion. I also ended up as the company's web master for a few years.

But in contrast, a friend of mine worked as a technical editor at a much larger company for a few years, and her experience was very different from mine. Hers was much more about maintaining consistency in style and accuracy in language. She enjoyed her work too, and I'm sure many technical writers are between our (somewhat) extremes.

And here's a bigger "but"...Although it's only been 3 years since I transitioned from that position, I suspect the world of technical writing has changed a lot, due mainly to technological advances and to the economy. I suspect the world has less need of user manuals...just look at how computer and tablet manufacturers provide minimal documentation with their products. More and more, it seems that software companies are embedding documentation within their products (Help menus, in-product or online tutorials, etc.). This means that technical writers need to have as much of a programming or technical background as a strong writing background. I suspect that same need for a technical background applies to most any field that employs technical writers these days--engineering, manufacturing, biotechnology, etc.

I used to be a member of the Society for Technical Communication, and I would highly recommend their web site and resources for a clearer picture of where technical writing is going, what is expected of technical writers, and what opportunities are currently available.

So...if anyone has any questions for me...about anything really...feel free to post them in the comments! (This applies to any post at any time...um, I think.)

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