March 24th, 2004


Tech Writing, the unspoken requirements

A couple years back, one of the writer's magazines had a feature article best described as (paraphrased title) "Make Big Bucks Making the Complex Understandable: Become a Technical Writer!"

Aside from the fact that I don't know anyone who was making the $60-100/hr the article promised, it said nothing about the unspoken requirements of the job, as I have experienced it over 25 years in the business.

Unspoken requirements:
* Ability to work with no written input or marginal/incomplete/incomprehensible/incorrect specs.
* Great tolerance to abuse and scapegoating by managers and others who have no idea of what your job involves.
* Willingness to work strange hours (such as 11pm to 3am, because that's when you can get time on the system) and extended hours every day. If salaried exempt, to do all of this for the same pay as someone working 8-hour 9-to-5 days.
* Ability to do "technical channelling" from the minds of developers, based on hunches, and skillful leading questions, definitely a plus.
* Creativity in working around the limitations of ancient equipment with limited functionality, obsoleted for the home market 5+ years before, because "they're just writers, they don't need up-to-date systems."
* Patience of a saint and a half, so that you don't get fired when the stress starts to get to you.

The great irony of the article in the writer magazine was that it was urging people to go into an abusive job area, to be able make a decent living from writing. (Hey, that's why I do it. It supports my house and my hobbies.) The grass is always greener...
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