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ORGANIZATIONS
  

The Cube Farm: A Happy Place!
by Susana Maria Rosende

I'm one of those lucky few who enjoys a full-time day job along with a part-time, freelance business.

As a Senior Technical Writer/Supervisor in Corporate America, I'm luckier than most. I spend my days Mondays through Fridays in a family-friendly and flexible IT division for a company so nice it actually adheres to a Customer Service Excellence motto for both internal (co-workers) and external (the customers) clients. Once a year, the company holds a themed Customer Service Excellence (CSE) day, with free food, games, and casual dress for everyone, including the contractors.

In addition to our generous two-week vacation to start -- three weeks after five years -- four weeks after 10, we also get 10 sick days, several holidays, two personal days, and birthdays off! Meals are catered for all-day meetings and training...yes, training! STC memberships are included for the technical writers and out-of-state trips to STC conferences are permitted most years.

Not only is it a nice company, with nice people, but it has nice benefits to boot. During good years, our employees can expect to receive an annual bonus of up to 10 percent of our annual salaries! Most people stay at our company forever, retiring after 30 years. It is so nice, in fact, that I didn't think our company could be beat...until I heard about Google. That's right, Google, as in the Search Engine so popular it has become it's own Verb, as in "Want information? Just "google" it!"

Google's niceties start with its motto: "Don't Be Evil," and extend to its perks. First of all, free meals are prepared by company chefs at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., a modern corporate campus known as the Googleplex. Other amenities there include children's day care, doctors, dry cleaning, laundry, a gym, and basketball and volleyball courts. Maternity or paternity leave is 12 weeks at 75 percent of full pay. There is also up to $500 available for takeout meals for the entire family after a newborn arrives, courtesy of Google. Shuttle buses (with wireless Internet access for working while commuting) ferry employees to the Googleplex from throughout the Bay area.

And what may be the biggest perk of all is that the company's engineers are given 20 percent of their time to pursue their own ideas instead of company assignments. That's not all. To encourage loyalty and a sense of ownership, all Google employees receive stock grants or options. (Google's stock price has more than doubled so far this year.)

Wow! It almost makes me want to pack my bags and leave sunny Orlando, Florida for the sunny Bay Area, California.

It sure is nice to know the face of Corporate America is changing.

I think I can even see Dilbert smiling.

Technical Writers...Who Needs Them?

Who needs us? Well, just about every business. Technical writing has become an increasingly essential occupation in business and government, and jobs can be found in almost any industry sector because of the need for user guides, instruction manuals, and training materials. What's more, the demand for Technical Writers is expected to grow because of the need to communicate new scientific and technical information to others.

WHAT DO WE DO?

What is it exactly that we do? We write. While our writing may not be as glamorous or exciting as that of a novelist, poet, screenwriter, or even marketing writer, the arguement can be made that technical writing is more essential to every day life.

WE'RE EVERYWHERE

Technical Writers create product instructions, reference and maintenance manuals, articles, project proposals, training materials, technical reports, catalogs, brochures, online documentation and help systems, Web pages, multimedia presentations, parts lists, assembly instructions, and sales promotion materials. We compose communication from product developers for users of the products. Users include consumers as well as scientists, engineers, plant executives, line workers, and production managers. And we must write in a concise and easy-to-read manner for consumer publications or in highly specialized language for experts. With the increased use of desktop publishing, Technical Writers increasingly are responsible for the publication process including graphics, layout, and document design.

To complete our documentation, we perform the following tasks:

  • Analyze the needs of the target audience.
  • Study data and conduct in-depth interviews with subject matter experts to understand the product or procedure.
  • Index and cross-reference documents such as bulletins and manuals.
  • Produce or arrange for illustrations, charts, and photographs to be included in publications.
  • Edit, standardize, or revise material prepared by other writers or personnel.
  • Prepare layout of material for publication.
  • Prepare rough drafts of the publication for review with the project staff and/or customers.
  • Create and edit Web pages for the Internet, intranets, and extranets.

Additionally, Technical Writers often specialize in a specific industry such as agriculture, health care, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, computers, or manufacturing. Within their chosen industry, many Technical Writers will specialize further. For example, Technical Writers in the computer industry might specialize in software documentation, tutorials, or user manuals.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose. A Rose by any other name would STILL be a rose. What should you call us? Although "Technical Writer" is the most commonly used job title for this occupation, other titles include Medical Writer, Communications Specialist, Policy and Procedure Writer, Proposal Writer, Publications Specialist, Science Writer, Documentation Specialist, Health Writer, Information Developer, Technical Editor, Web Editor, and Information Designer. Some titles indicate the particular industry in which the occupation is found. In any case, call us. We like to feel needed.

WHAT SKILLS ARE IMPORTANT?

As Technical Writers, we present specialized information within strict accuracy and format requirements. Technical writing requires the ability to concentrate for long periods of time and strong organizational skills. We use the following skills, knowledge, and abilities to accomplish their daily tasks:

  • Writing - Communicating effectively with others in writing as indicated by the needs of the audience.
  • Active Listening - Listening to what other people are saying and asking questions as appropriate.
  • Speaking - Talking to others to effectively convey information.
  • Information Gathering - Knowing how to find information and identifying essential information.
  • Information Organization - Finding ways to structure or classify multiple pieces of information.
  • Synthesis/Reorganization - Reorganizing information to get a better approach to problems or tasks.
  • Active Learning - Working with new material or information to grasp its implications.
  • Product Inspection - Inspecting and evaluating the quality of products.
  • English Language - Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.

WHAT'S THE WORK ENVIRONMENT?

Although we usually work at a desk in an office or cubicle, during the planning and production stages of publications, we may be required to travel to another location to discuss a project with others. Technical Writers use personal computers and word processing or desktop publishing software for text, graphic, and multimedia production. Just like other writing professions, we have tight deadlines to meet. Technical Writers who work under contract or freelance may work from their home or at the employer's site. Writers may work alone or together under the supervision of a publication manager or editor, a product or procedure specialist, or a marketing manager.

WHAT'S THE JOB OUTLOOK?

The outlook for Technical Writing jobs is excellent. The Technical Writer occupation will grow faster than average compared with all occupations. Industry expansion will provide most new jobs, although many openings will occur as workers leave the occupation.

Source: Occupational Employment Survey of Employers by EDD/LMID.

HOW TO BECOME A TECHNICAL WRITER

Education and Training

Some firms will only hire experienced Writers who specialize in one field of technology. Many employers prefer applicants with a four-year college degree in English, Communications, Engineering, Journalism, or those possessing a degree or certificate in technical writing. Some employers require a strong background of technical knowledge and experience, combined with writing skills. Applicants must have good computer skills and may need a working knowledge of specific industry operations and procedures.

Employers also select trainees from among technicians who have backgrounds in science, military equipment, and communications. Applicants should have good communication skills and be able to convey scientific and technical information accurately and clearly.

Increasingly, companies require Technical Writers to be knowledgeable about computer graphics and desktop publishing, including multimedia production. Only a few years ago, computer literacy was considered merely an asset whereas today it is a requirement. Some Technical Writers may be required to know and read program languages.

Individuals interested in becoming Technical Writers should take courses in communication, journalism (especially interviewing skills), English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, mechanical drawing, graphic arts, and computer-related subjects. Technical Writers should also acquire a solid background in the industry that interests them as a specialty. Completion of a degree or certificate program in technical writing is very helpful and available through community colleges and university continuing education programs. Beginners often assist experienced Technical Writers and may conduct library research, prepare rough drafts of reports, or perform basic editing tasks. In defense-related organizations, U.S. citizenship may be required because of the classified nature of some projects.

Continuing Education

Technical writing requires people who are not only skilled as Writers but are able to keep pace with changing technology. Today many Technical Writers produce work for online and multimedia publication which requires additional specialized software skills. Those entering the technical writing field can look forward to lifelong learning to keep up with the technological tools of the trade and new research in the communications field. Professional associations offer a place to gain additional knowledge and skills.

OTHER SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Society for Technical Communication, Inc.
901 N. Stuart Street, Suite 904
Arlington, VA 22203-1822
(703) 522-4114
Fax: (703) 522-2075
www.stc.org

National Writers Union - National Office West
337 17th Street, #101
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 839-0110
Fax: (510) 839-6097
www.nwu.org

American Society of Indexers
10200 West 44th Avenue, Suite 304
Wheat Ridge, CO 80033
(303) 463-2887
Fax: (303) 422-8894
www.asindexing.org

American Medical Writers Association
Northern California Chapter
www.amwancal.org
Pacific Southwest Chapter
www.amwa-pacsw.org

Council of Science Editors
c/o Drohan Management Group
11250 Roger Bacon Drive, Suite 8
Reston, VA 20190-5202
(703) 437-4377
Fax: (703) 435-4390
www.councilscienceeditors.org

Editorial Freelancers Association
71 West 23rd Street, Suite 1910
New York, NY 10010
(212) 929-5400
Fax: (212) 929-5439
www.the-efa.org

International Webmasters Association
119 E Union Street, Suite # F
Pasadena, CA 91103
(626) 449-3709
Fax: (626) 449-8308
www.iwanet.org

International Association of Business
  Communicators
One Hallidie Plaza, Suite 600
San Francisco, CA 94102-2818
(800) 776-4222
Fax: (415) 544-4747
www.iabc.com

National Association of Science Writers
P.O. Box 294
Greenlawn, NY 11740
(631) 757-5664
Fax: (631) 757-0069
www.nasw.org

Best-in-Class Companies Involve
Technical Communicators in Early Stages,
Report Finds


By Cecily Farrar, Assistant Editor
copied from
The Society for Technical Communication Newsletter
March/April 2007

How do the best-performing companies structure their technical communication departments? To find out, the Aberdeen Group along with the Society for Technical Communication, the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, and the Center for Information-Development Management examined the experiences and goals of more than 330 businesses that responded to an online survey about their development processes for product documentation. Developed with the assistance of members of the STC Research and Strategic Planning Committees, the questionnaire focused on such issues as the degree to which product documentation impacts corporate strategies, operations, and financial results and the structure and effectiveness of existing documentation procedures.

The Next-Generation Product Documentation Report: Getting Past the Throw It over the Wall Approach, published in December 2006 by the Aberdeen Group, examined five key performance indicators: publication/product launch date, documentation cost, translation cost, documentation purpose, and documentation quality. Companies whose aggregate scores were in the top 20 percent were categorized as best in class, those in the middle 50 percent fell into the average category, and the remaining 30 percent were deemed laggard.

This report elevates the real value of product information and draws attention to the impact that technical communicators have on a manufacturer success in the marketplace, said Dan Ortega, vice president of marketing for Astoria Software, one of the report underwriters. [The technical communicator is] the hub for information about a manufacturer's product [and] should be leveraged throughout the entire organization. . . . The end result will be a more consistent and positive product information experience for end users at every customer touch point.

Seven Key Recommendations

The Aberdeen report recommends the following actions to optimize product development processes:

  1. Kick off the documentation and design processes at the same time. Best-in-class companies are 74 percent more likely than average or laggard companies to start the documentation process at the same time as the design process. Involving technical communicators early helps the project team meet deadlines.Best-in-class companies meet their documentation targets on a 92 percent or better averageand allows for coordination and communication in relation to product changes.
  2. Integrate the documentation department into engineering. Best-in-class performers are 69 percent more likely to place the documentation team in the engineering department. Increased collaboration between engineers and technical writers keeps documentation up-to-date with design changes and results in successfully hitting launch dates, according to the report. (The best in class make two-thirds fewer postproduct launch changes than laggards.)
  3. Distribute structured document and content management tools to technical writers. For text-based documentation, best-in-class companies are 45 percent more likely to use structured document authoring tools such as XML and help technologies, which enable quick and easy content reuse. Top performers are also 45 percent more likely to use content management for their documentation, in turn creating relationships between topics.
  4. Provide 3-D visualization and design-based illustration tools to technical illustrators. Best-in-class companies are 72 percent more likely to use design-based illustration tools. Technical communicators who use 3-D visualization or publishing technologies can capture their own images rather than work with computer-assisted design (CAD) users. These tools also save time for technical illustrators, who no longer have to wait for images from CAD users.
  5. Deploy translation memory technology to localize product documentation. Best-in-class companies are 51 percent more likely to employ translation memory technology, which analyzes current content against existing translated material. Reusing content that has already been written and translated means that less time and money are required to localize it. The best in class also experience half the translation gap that laggards do.
  6. Use 3-D publishing technology to increase graphical communication. Best-in-class companies are twice as likely to use 3-D graphical communications. For example, 3-D graphics embedded within electronic documents allow users to closely examine the product and observe animations of service and maintenance procedures.
  7. Track content reuse to check for documentation readability. Best-in-class companies are seven times more likely to use percentage reuse as a key indicator of readability performance. Tracking content reuse is important because consistent documentation is easier for users to consume and aids in reinforcing the message.
  8. About Aberdeen

    Founded in 1988, the Aberdeen Group provides fact-based research on global technology issues. Aberdeen’s research community of more than 125,000 executives completed over 100 extensive research studies in 2006. For more information, visit www.aberdeen.com.

    Other report underwriters include Adobe, JustSystems, ParallelGraphics, and SDL International.

    Famous Technical Writers

    1. Dilbert's Tina the Technical Writer

    2. Dilbert's Tina the Brittle Technical Writer

    3. Fox's Andy Richter

    4. Fox's Andy Richter Controls the Universe


    5. The Technical Writer - The Movie


    6. Amy Tan, Technical Writer and Novelist


    7. Kurt Vonnegut, Technical Writer, Novelist, and Graphic Artist


    8. Thomas Pynchon, Technical Writer, Novelist


    9. Dr. JoAnn Hackos, Technical Writer, Author, Director


    10. Laura Lemay, Technical and Creative Writer


    11. Lisa Higgins, Technical Writer, Humorist


    12. Jodi Picoult, Technical Writer, Advertising Writer, and Novelist

    13. Susana Maria Rosende, Technical and Creative Writer, Artist

      (Hee hee...couldn't resist)


      and alter ego:

    Be a Better Technical Writer

    Top Tech Writing Books

    Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness:
    When Tech Writing Goes Bad

    The Downside of Technical Writing

    A Technical Recruiter once told me, "Susana, I have some advice for you...if you want to be a 'worker bee' go back to school and become a Nurse. There's just no respect out there for Technical Writers."

    He was serious.


    (Click me!)

    Newly-armed with my B.A. in English/Technical Writing, those were the last words I wanted to hear.

    But, 14 years later, I grudgingly admit he's right. The gods of the I.T. world, namely the computer engineers and programmers, often look down on writers. They figure they could do a better job of documenting their systems -- if they only had the time. What they don't understand is the importance of writing from the user's perspective, the main goal of the technical writer.

    Project managers and business analysts may forget to include writers in status meetings, or altogether, wreaking havoc with writing schedules as we scramble to learn systems well enough to produce quality documents at the last minute.

    What project teams often forget is that Technical Writing is not an isolated pursuit. Just as programmers build a product together, technical writing is a collaborative effort with engineers, analysts, Q.A. testers, writers, and editors.

    We cannot work in a vacuum.

    When the technical writer or editor is left out of the loop or receives no feedback on the documentation, the manual, guide, or online help is doomed. Sadly, in many projects, the user guide or online help is an afterthought, instead of being considered an essential part of the product.

    So, though a career in Technical Writing yields the most steady income of all writing jobs, unless one is a "technical Technical Writer," i.e. an engineer, web master, or computer programmer who writes, there are times one gets little respect.

    John David Hickey, Technical Writer, says it best when he lists the daily issues -- which he calls "lies" -- that Technical Writers confront on the job:

    Biggest Lies Tech Writers Hear by John David Hickey

    • I'll have the review and redlines to you by COB today.
    • I'll take it along and read it on the plane.
    • I'll read it over the weekend.
    • I'll return this to you, with my comments, by the end of the week?
    • On Monday: We need it by Friday (after doing a little digging, you discover that they've known about this project for 6 weeks, but are only getting around to telling you now. More digging reveals that they can really wait until next week).
    • Nobody reads the manuals, anyway!
    • Code will be frozen 12 weeks before your document is due.
    • There's plenty of time in the schedule for these changes.
    • I don't really have an opinion on how you labelled those controls.
    • One space, two spaces. It doesn't matter to me.
    • We're ordering you a faster computer and a 21" monitor tomorrow.
    • Our company takes great pride in its technical documentation.
    • We've never had any complaints about our documentation.
    • You'll have the full support of upper management.
    • We're very committed here to producing top of the line documentation.
    • Our TWs are respected members of the development team.

    • You'll have the opportunity to learn the latest tools here.
    • We're going to be moving to online documentation within the next six months.
    • What do you mean you need to know the product name now? Can't you just do a search and replace right before you go to the printer?
    • Nobody expects you to take notes or write up the minutes if you attend our development meetings.
    • The style guide covers every possible situation.
    • The manual is the first thing that the user goes to after installing the product.
    • Our readers always notice and care deeply if there are two spaces after a period, if bullets are square instead of round, and if the font is Verdana instead of Arial.
    • Your pay is within close range of the developer's.
    • You'll never perform a non-writing task.
    • Designers and developers will ask for and respect your opinion on GUI design, layout, and functionality.
    • You should having a fully-functional product in your hands in plenty of time to complete your document.
    • Don't worry. Your document probably will not need to be translated.
    • The product's so intuitive, it practically writes the manual itself.
    • Nobody here is going to offer anything but constructive criticism about your work. There are no ego problems. We're a team.
    • Your computer and software is every bit up-to-date as the ones they have in Engineering.
    • You won't be thought of as a nuisance by the SME's. They accept that you're a peer and respect that you have a job to do.
    • You don't need to know anything about a computer except how to turn it on and work the word processor.
    • The work is simple. Just write down what the thing does and how to do it.
    • Oh, there's just one major feature change and some bug fixes.
    • Take it from me...
    • Don't worry...
    • This is the latest copy...
    • It's still in review...
    • It's at the printer...
    • It's due back from the printer today...
    • We're going to make the deadline...
    • This is the latest copy of the software.
    • Take it from me, this is how the feature is going to work.
    • All the information you need is in the specs.
    • Don't worry. You'll get my comments on your manual tomorrow. I swear.
    • The procedure should only take a page, two at the most.
    • No rush.
    • We are an equal opportunity employer.
    • We're all just one big happy family.
    • We have no lawsuits pending.
    • Our stock options are growing, and you can purchase on the employee plan.
    • Communication is our priority.
    • Teamwork is our middle name.
    • The software is frozen.
    • As the tech writer at our company, you will have full, unrestricted access to the development team's time.
    • I'd make that more abstract. We'll make sure you have everything you need to get the job done.
    • As the tech writer at our company, you will have full, unrestricted access to the devolopment team's time and resources.


    In every day life, there are many mind-numbing, soul-crushing, just-to-pay-the-bills job moments. During those moments, I wish to escape my career as a mild-mannered technical writer and editorial word Nazi for whatever soulless corporation I'm employed in at the time. But, then comes a project where my contribution is truly valued, and I fall in love with my profession all over again. The job of a technical writer can be an uphill battle, but those of us with inquisitive minds and a passion for writing, will nonetheless continue to pursue it.

    Cubicle Sweet Cubicle


    Technical Writers Rock! border=

    The Grammar Police

    When you need a technical writer.

    Read the manual.

    Clean up your grammar!

    Write Way Designs for technical writing, editing, proofreading, copywriting, and Web authoring and design.

    Links for and about Technical Writers and the technical writing profession:

    Technical Writers Keep Up with Technology News

    On Writing and Censorship

  9. Sensitive Language
  10. Banned Books Online
  11. Banned Books and Censorship
  12. Censorship Book, the Central Source for Book PC on the Internet
  13. Censorship and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
  14. Harry Potter, Best Seller and Most Banned
  15. Banning of James Joyce's Ulysses
  16. Darwinism -- The forbidden subject
  17. JAPAN: Re-writing History Books
  18. Censorship in Contemporary Children's Books
  19. The Forbidden Library of Censored Books
  20. Books: The BEST and the BANNED
  21. Feminist Censorship
  22. Censorship Reaches RIDICULOUS Extremes
  23. Censorship and the Banning of Literature
  24. Censorship is Alive and Well
  25. Censorship resources from the Library of Santa Monica College, including Censorship, Freedom of Speech, and Hate Speech
  26. CENSORSHIP and what we can do about it
  27. Top Censored Books

    01 - Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    02 - The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
    03 - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    04 - The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
    05 - Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
    06 - The Witches by Roald Dahl
    07 - A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
    08 - How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
    09 - Blubber by Judy Blume
    10 - Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
    11 - Night Chills by Dean Koontz
    12 - James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
    13 - The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks
    14 - The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    15 - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
    16 - Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    17 - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    18 - I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

    Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

    Or rather...

    According to a researcher (sic) at Cambridge University, it doesn't matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself but the word as a whole.

    For a series of in-depth explanations, click here.

    Writing.com
    National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)
    Writing-World.com Contests!


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A Sorta Fairy Tale (Audio) by Tori Amos
 copyright Susana Rosende 2003  

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