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So You Wannabe a Tech Writer?

Internet Prose 101

Writing for Webzines

Testing to Revise

Restructuring Legacy Documents for Multiple Re-Use

Writing Effective Procedures

Adopting an Object Orientation to Improve Documentation

Designing Online Help

So You Wannabe a Technical Writer?


An introduction to the profession for beginners and newcomers, this two-day workshop will help you discover what the field may hold for you. You’ll learn the top ten signs that you’ll do well in this profession, take a quick look back at 2,000 years of technical communication (from Euclid to you), then turn to the present, and explore the many roles a technical communicator may play today. You’ll learn what’s involved in technical communication, and what’s not; what previous jobs will help you the most, through skills transfer; and what career paths may be open to you within this profession. At the end of the class, you’ll have a chance to identify the kind of mentor you’d like, and we’ll make our best effort to locate an experienced technical communicator who can give you advice as you enter the profession.

 You’ll explore the many worlds in which technical communicators work—from government labs to startups, from Fortune 500 industries to freelance consulting.

 You’ll get a chance to try your hand at writing some of the most common documents a technical communicator works on: procedures, tutorials, job aids, reference, Web sites. You’ll get a feel for the material you may begin with, and you’ll see samples of finished documentation.

 You’ll spend a virtual day in the life of a technical communicator. You’ll see how your work fits into a product life cycle, or research cycle; you’ll get to try out some of the many tools a technical communicator has to use, in an average day. You’ll look at a styleguide like the ones so many writers have to follow; you’ll practice interviewing subject matter experts and users; and you’ll get a chance to put together the pieces of a document design.

 You’ll learn how we measure our work, in an effort to improve quality. And you’ll ponder some case studies that raise ethical issues you may face on the job.

 Finally, you’ll get your reward. You’ll learn how pay varies from one part of the country to another, from one type of organization to another, and from entry level to senior levels. You’ll also begin to get a sense of some of the less tangible rewards you get from clarifying complex subject matter, and helping people use new technology.

 By the end of the workshop, you’ll have learned at least 100 industry terms, so you’ll be able to understand insider talk, when you meet people who are already working in the field.

Can Do

At the end of the two days, you will be able to:

  • Identify key roles, tasks, tools, and career paths for a technical communicator.
  • Identify job types, locations, and skills that fit their own interests.
  • Write parts of typical documentation.
  • Describe the way that technical communication fits into the life of the larger organization, and list at least a dozen tasks a technical communicator typically performs.
  • Identify ways we measure quality, and resolve ethical questions.
  • Use 100 key industry terms correctly.

Topics covered:

The Top 10 Signs You’ll Do Well in This Profession—informal indicators of success. If you have these characteristics, you’ll probably enjoy technical communication.

 Where We Came From—2,000 years of technical communication, from Euclid to you. A whirlwind tour of precursors of our profession, from Renaissance advice books, and Puritan sermons through the writings of early scientists, and the handbooks of engineers through the nineteenth century. The impact of World War II, consumer advocacy, environmentalism, the self-help and do-it-yourself movements, and marketing.

 What We Do Now—The many hats a technical communicator may wear. Although writing and editing remain at the core of the profession, we are often required to create graphics, design layouts, whip up user interfaces, write scripts, and architect thousands of chunks of information for random access. We may work alone, or on a team; in a central pool, or on loan to a project team; on staff, or freelance. That’s a lot of hats.

 The Many Mad, Wonderful Worlds of TC—where you might work, who you might write for. How technical communication changes as you move from one industry to another, or from government agencies to scientific labs.

 Where We Draw the Line—how we see ourselves as different from similar or related professions, such as public relations, marketing, academic teaching, art, programming, or the literary life.

 Professions It’s Good to Have Come From—how skills learned in teaching, journalism, programming, training, and a half dozen other professions can give you a leg up on technical communication. You’re not doomed if you come from some other field, but these definitely give you experience you can apply right away.

 What You Produce—here’s a chance to do a little writing in some of the genres you may encounter as a technical communicator, such as procedures, tutorials, job aids, proposals, reference, help, and web sites.

 A Day in the Life—how you fit into a product or research life cycle, what kinds of tools you’ll probably have to learn to use, how to adapt yourself to the rules of thumb in a styleguide, how to interview people, how to prepare a document design, and, briefly, how to collaborate, hold a meeting, track progress.

 Taking Our Measure—how technical communicators measure quality, what standards we set ourselves, and what ethical issues we have to face.

 The Rewards—how payscales vary around the country, what you learn just by working as a technical communicator, how you help users, and your own organization.

 Talk the Talk—a summary in the form of a glossary of key terms you will need, in order to chat with people in the field.


Sign up now for this two-day workshop at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Extension, in their Santa Clara classrooms, December 5-6, 1998.


We are always glad to customize a workshop for a particular group or setting.  Please call Jonathan at 505 898-4912 to get more details.


Copyright 1998 Jonathan and Lisa Price, The Communication Circle
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