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Technical Writing Feedback

by Ron Kurtus

Readers have sent in a total of 105 comments and questions on Technical Writing issues. They are listed according to date.

You can read them to further your understanding of the subject.



List of next 15 letters

Title

Topic

Country

Comparing wages in Utah for technical writers Salaries USA
 
Medical proofreader interested in technical writing Skills Needed India
 
What is the benefit of RoboHelp? RoboHelp and WBT USA
 
I am an engineer and want to be a technical writer General India
 
Do agencies provide workman's comp insurance? Salaries USA
 
Want to make my career in technical writing Skills Needed India
 
Being precise in what you write Process USA
 
Writing a technical manual for a website Process USA
 
Using Robohelp for Framemaker FM to RoboHelp USA
 
Need to mention engineering drawings Process USA
 
Must create single source manual and online help General USA
 
Wants to become a content writer General India
 
I want to become a technical writer Resources India
 
Wants to start business with 1 1/2 years experience Marketing as Independent Pakistan
 
Wants trademark superscript Steps in WebHelp India
 

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First 15 letters


Salaries

Comparing wages in Utah for technical writers

September 17, 2007

Question

You report that the median income for technical writers in Utah has dropped, and conclude that this indicates a downturn in the economy. The median, as opposed to the mean, simply indicates that half the writers earn more, and half earn less. Isn't this just as likely (or more likely when other economic indicators are factored in) to indicate that more entry-level tech writers have been hired at starting salaries, pulling the median down? Last I heard, Utah's economy was doing significantly better than the national average.

What's the actual average salary for Utah? That would probably be more helpful.

Benjamin - USA (14407)

Answer

What is really hurting the wages of technical writers is the fact that many companies are outsourcing the writing to India, where the wages are much lower. Also, companies do not seem to put as much value on well-written documentation as they did in the past.

The statistics for technical writer income is based on feedback from writers to several organizations. It gives an idea of what people are earing, but it can also be skewed if not many had responded.

Yes, it would be interesting to compare writer's wages with that for the whole state. Unfortunately, we haven't gotten into that at this time.

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Skills Needed

Medical proofreader interested in technical writing

August 17, 2007

Question

I am a BCOM graduate with good knowledge of English and have been working as an executive proofreader in the field of medical transcription. I have not had a flair for writing but am interested to know if I can be a technical writer.

Thanks.

Sudha - India (14210)

Answer

Medical and drug companies that create documentation for using their products, as well as documentation for physicians and medical personnel, are often looking for technical writers with a knowledge of medical terminology. See if there is a Medical Writers Association or something similar in India.

An interesting article on the subject is at:
http://www.chillibreeze.com/articles/Outsourcingmedicalwritingservices.asp

With your background, you should be able to get a position in medical technical writing.

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RoboHelp and WBT

What is the benefit of RoboHelp?

February 14, 2007

Question

what is the cost-how much technical help is necessary-what is benefit to use robohelp

L - USA (13156)

Answer

RoboHelp and similar online help tools are fairly expensive. They are used in technical writing that is in coordination with a software application that a company is developing. Online help can be used in web based training, but there are many new tools that are more effective. If your company has RoboHelp, it can be used to develop WBT.

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General

I am an engineer and want to be a technical writer

February 8, 2007

Question

I am an engineer. How much effective career growth i can get in the field of technical writing. Please clear my doubts.

vikash - India (13088)

Answer

The pay is usually much better in engineering than in technical writing. But if you like to write and are good at it, you can use your engineering skill to your advantage in technical writing. This is because many engineers are not very good writers, so there is a demand for people who can understand engineering and who can write.

Look within your own company and volunteer for assignments where writing is necessary. This will give you a start in the field. Also seek out managers that have technical writers working for them within your company and within other companies to tell them of your interests.

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Salaries

Do agencies provide workman's comp insurance?

January 26, 2007

Question

according to your website:
Other independents work through consulting agencies that "hire" them on a per-job basis. They often get health insurance and have their taxes deducted, but they usually get less money per hour of work.

are independents who work through consulting agencies generally covered by workers' compensation insurance?

Edward - USA (12980)

Answer

Workmen's Compensation is not much of an issue with technical writers, and most agencies would not cover the workers. There are exceptions, because some of the larger agencies take in writers almost as full-time employees.

There is a very wide range of coverages from temporary and consulting agencies. Since the coverages are so weak, usually the writer must handle his or her insurance to supplement what the agency provides.

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Skills Needed

Want to make my career in technical writing

January 24, 2007

Question

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am new to this Tech Writing field. I want to make my career in it. Guide in this regard like to how to improve / update skills related to this field.

Awaiting for your reply.

Ashwini - India (12954)

Answer

You can read through our lessons to get some tips about improving your career and technical writing.

Also visit the website: http://www.stc-india.org/ for information on technical writing in India.

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Process

Being precise in what you write

October 31, 2006

Question

What I once asked was part of a little assignment. I'm taking a Technical Writing class (Online) at a college, so I thought I could use a little help and advice before I might submit the wrong information to my instructor. I thank you for your help!

Steve - USA (12521)

Answer

Teachers are often vague in their assignment questions. But also, technical writers may have problems with vague or ambiguous tasks and requirements from their boss or customers.

An important part of technical writing is to be precise in what you write, so that there are no misunderstandings. Also, the material must be concise. A fiction writer that describes things in extreme detail will not make a good technical writer.

Best wishes in your class.

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Process

Writing a technical manual for a website

October 28, 2006

Question

What specific challenges would I face when I want to write a technical manual for a certain website?

steve - USA (12260)

Answer

Clarity of purpose is the most important challenge. Is this technical manual for a product that will be delivered or displayed on a website? Or is the manual a guide for people using the website? Is it delivered on the website or as hardcopy? These are things that must be defined.

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FM to RoboHelp

Using Robohelp for Framemaker

October 12, 2006

Question

I am using a product that is no longer supported, Robohelp for framemaker, and I have a technical question. Would you happen to know of a website or forum that will answer questions about this product?

I must say though, it is possible that my question is not product related, but simply online help related, so I am thinking I should just ask you the question I have and then you will be better equipped to point me in the right direction, or even better, answer it.

I generated a Webhelp file that has the statndard book folders and topic pages. I want to have the ability to copy the url of a page and send the page to someone else. This I can do for the sub-topic html pages (right click to get properties, and the address url), but with the book pages, I get "javascript:Void(0)" as the URL address. My webhelp file is in an intranet network with my company, and so no html page urls appear, which is why I have to right click a topic in the menu to get the url.

Any help you may provide is greatly appreciated.

Bill - USA (12148)

Answer

RoboHelp is not exactly dead yet. The main forum on using it isat:
http://www.adobe.com/cfusion/webforums/forum/index.cfm?forumid=65
Also check: http://www.adobe.com/support/robohelpframemaker/

I don't have a solution for your problem, so hopefully one of the resources could help.

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Process

Need to mention engineering drawings

October 11, 2006

Question

I was an aviation technical writer/editor for many years, and offer these comments:
Your document is probably good for writing a technical manual for a very simple item. Your instruction for developing illustrations is a gross over-simplification. Most illustrations are dervied from egineering drawings, not photographs. The large scale sofware programs and CAD systems used by large manufacturers should be mentioned. It might be helpful to some of your readers to know that there are very detailed military specifications which provide excellent guidance for writing a technical manual. A desription (definition) of validation and verification would be helpful.

Joe - USA (12135)

Answer

Thanks for the feedback. Although intended to be a brief overview, I certainly did neglect the areas of writing for engineering and technical hardware companies. I added a paragraph on including engineering drawings and those from CAD software. We plan to have a more detailed lesson on some of the issues you addressed.

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General

Must create single source manual and online help

October 3, 2006

Question

I'm stumped! Need advice ASAP
I'm faced with trying to write both Training and Online Help for a large (modular-based) computer application. (Teach the users what each module does and also teach Admin functionality to focals). Currently, the team has used a large batch of PowerPoint files for training on each module. It's a nightmare to update upon each version roll-out.
Modular Example of a PowerPoint: "Introduction to the Action Item Module"

Users access these files online; either through the web-site (list of available training material by topic), or through the program management database by searching for the record that holds training for that topic.
I'm looking to streamline access for users and streamline (consolidate material) quickly before our next release. Want them to find everything in one place (User Manual) and a separate (Administrator's Manual) - both equipped with the hyper-linked TOC (Table of Contents).

I have Word and RoboHelp for utilization and have begun dumping several of the .ppts into a Word file (User's Manual) - however, I know from past experience Word has it's size limitations and need to know how to proceed.

I was thinking I could have Chapters 1-5 in one Word file, Chapters 6-12 in file 2, and Chapters 13-20 in file 3 (as an example). (Each chapter being a modular topic). However, this is not going to work well - if a user wants to simply "download the manual".....(they'll be forced to get it in pieces).
Is Adobe my only real option for creating a large manual. Note: the manual is packed full of screen shots. Image sizes are reduced to save space.

If Adobe is the recommended way to go --- Do I have to purchase Adobe in order to convert Word to Adobe?

Also, do you try to make your Online Help mirror the Training Manual? I had a developer lead tell me that they shouldnt be anything alike -- but I've always seen the two 'very much alike'....Wanting to know the industry standard reply on that subject. Should they - or shouldnt they mirror one another. I would think the user should be able to see/read the same instructional info on hard copy or soft (Online Help) and not see a dummed down version on either side.

I appreciate any suggestions and opinions you could provide ASAP.
Thanks,

Chris - USA (12064)

Answer

Writing both a manual and online help from a single source is promoted and desired by many companies, because it simplifies updating. The problem is that they are two different animals. The result is poorly done online help with too much detail, poorly done manuals, or both.

But you have a start since you have the content in PowerPoint. If it is done as usual, each slide is probably a title with several bullet points. This provides a good basis for an outline of the material and for the beginning of online help.

If you Save As the PowerPoint files as RTF Outline, you will get an outline with the heading of each slide as Heading 1. All the graphics are stripped out. RoboHelp should directly convert that into online help. It may be necessary to tweak the outline, according to how the presentation was formatted.

There is a feature in Word that allows you to link a number of documents together through the TOC, in the situation where you would want a large document. The big problem with using Word for document using many pictures or graphics is that the program bogs down pretty fast. This is why Adobe FrameMaker is used for large manuals. It is build to handle such documentation and that is why it is the industry standard for manuals. But that doesn't solve the problem of including online help from a single source.

A route to go is to start with the PowerPoint outline and elaborate on each point somewhat--but not too much. Create your online help. Also do each chapter in Word as separate file, along with the graphics. Then create one large Adobe Acrobat PDF file by inserting each Word file into it. You can purchase Acrobat, but there are many PDF generators around for a small amount or even free.

Sometimes what the customer or the boss wants is not the best solution, but it is what you need to deliver. Best wishes in your project.

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General

Wants to become a content writer

October 2, 2006

Question

I want to pursue my career in content writing. How should I start and what course should I do to pursue this career? Also, what is the difference between a 'content writer' and a 'technical writer'?

regards,

Rupali - India (12051)

Answer

A technical writer usually writes manuals and instruction materials for products and software. It is intended for customers and repair technicians.

Content writing could be technical writing, but it also could be writing articles in magazines or educational material. Some corporate websites want people to write content or provide information on their products or how to use them. Most often when you see an ad for content writers, it concerns writing for a website.

Taking courses in writing is helpful in gaining the skills needed, but it is not essential in getting a job in the field. It is important to have samples of your writing to show prospective employers. The writing material should fit the industry for which you are applying. Fiction is not a good example.

I hope that helps you start your career.

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Resources

I want to become a technical writer

September 1, 2006

Question

Dear sir,
I want to become a technical writer, but how to become is the question for me. Please provide some suggestions to me on this concept.

vamsee - India (11808)

Answer

You need to have writing skills and be able communicate clearly in writing. It is good to have a few short samples of your writing to show prospective employers. You can study user manuals for products to see how some material is done by technical writers.

Then look in the want ads to see what skills and tools companies are looking for in a technical writer. Knowing how to use writing tools can be important. Also, if you are familiar with a specific industry, that skill can help you get a job in technical writing.

I hope these ideas help you.

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Marketing as Independent

Wants to start business with 1 1/2 years experience

March 28, 2006

Question

I have one year work experience as a Technical Writer and half year as eMarketing Engineer. Do you think it is good to start a technical communication business at this stage or should I gain more experience? If Yes, can you please provide me with valueable suggestions, advice and resources to start as independent business?

Nauman - Pakistan (10650)

Answer

Most people who go into business for themselves already have one or two clients that they can work for. Sometimes you can leave a company and then do contract work for them, provided you are on good terms with the managers.

There are temporary help companies that will hire independents to do work. In that case, you are somewhat in business for yourself.

You probably will need more work experience, because often you need to estimate how long a job will take. Sometimes you may bid on that estimate, and if you make a mistake in the estimate, you may end up working for little money. Also, the more personal contacts you can make among managers in the business, the easier it will be for you to get contracts as an independent.

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Steps in WebHelp

Wants trademark superscript

March 3, 2006

Question

Hi,
I am using Robohelp HTML and I need to insert the trademark "®" as superscript in the titlebar of the .hlp file. I tried a lot but it doesn't take as a superscript. Can you please guide me?

Thanks in advance,

Anil - India (10308)

Answer

You can open a Word document and type in (R). Word will automatically create the ® mark, which you can paste into your document. Another route is to add the following HTML code in your document < s u p > & r e g ; < / s u p >.

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