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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

Tools required for a technical writer Champion India
 
Thinking of being a technical writer Salaries USA
 
Technical interview questions for writer in IT industry General India
 
Trying to organize a technical manual Process USA
 
Considering online courses in technical writing Resources USA
 
What is best for online help? FM to RoboHelp USA
 
Wants ideas on getting work Salaries Nigeria.
 
How i can be a good technical writer? General India
 
What is they require experience? Skills Needed Pakistan
 
Technical writing in the aerospace industry Salaries India
 
Interested in aerospace industry 5 Ways into Writing USA
 
Having problems finding Text Symbols Indexing in FrameMaker India
 
Not sure about all the tools needed Skills Needed Philippines
 
Tech Writers should train on Open Source projects General USA
 
Wants to get hired in the U.S. Skills Needed USA
 

Next 15 letters

 




First 15 letters


Champion

Tools required for a technical writer

February 24, 2006

Question

Sir/Madam,
I'm Ganesh.I wish to know that what are the tools required for a technical writer?

ganesh - India (10213)

Answer

Many companies use Microsoft Word or Adobe FrameMaker for their documents. But other companies may use different writing and drawing tools. You can often tell what is needed in your area by looking at want ads for technical writing jobs. They often will tell the tools they require. That can give you a good idea.

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Salaries

Thinking of being a technical writer

February 1, 2006

Question

I have been a sales engineer for 10 years, and am looking for a career change. I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering. What advice can you give me? I have a family to support, so the $48k average salary you state won't be enough. Can I do this sort of career as a side business?

RAY - USA (9899)

Answer

The wages depend on the state in which you live. The wages in some states is considerably higher than $48K. I know California wages are in the high 70s.

As a sales engineer, have you written anything that can verify you have writing skills? If you've written marketing material, you might get into that field (called marcom).

Look at companies that you have dealt with and check out what sort of documentation they have and need. You can easily do that without compromising your present position. This gives you an idea of what the market is in your areas of expertise.

Note that independent writers get between $30-$75/hour. But you need industry connections to get such assignments. It also can be feat or famine.

Check out the STC chapter in your area. Go to one of their meetings to find out career opportunities in your location.

See: http://www.stc.org/chapter_search.asp

Best wishes in your career move.

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General

Technical interview questions for writer in IT industry

January 26, 2006

Question

dear sir/mam.,
could you please send some of technical interview questions for technical writer in IT industry.
thanking you.

santosh kumar - India (9809)

Answer

Important questions in a job interview for a technical writing position in the IT industry concern your knowledge of IT and what the various phrases mean, your knowledge of technical writing and common tools used by the company, and your general experience in writing.

Looking at advertisements for writers in IT, you will see what employers consider important qualifications. Questions asked will relate to experience and knowledge in those areas.

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Process

Trying to organize a technical manual

December 14, 2005

Question

I am writing project management guides for a steel fabrication and erection company. I read your paper with specific interests in mind and found good concise information relating to the broad topic of writing a technical manual. The decision I am faced with now is how to organize the parts of the manual in electronic files. For instance is it best to put all documents into one file or several, with or without sub-folders?
Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you.

Brian - USA (9376)

Answer

Writing a manual in Word is usually the easiest to start with, provided you have few illustrations. Its outline capability allows you to easily move things around. But if the manual is large and has many illustrations, it is best to use FrameMaker. Its book format allows you to have each chapter as a separate page. Either program could then be used to create a PDF file with links in the table of contents and index to the appropriate pages.

In other words, your final document for a single manual should be one PDF file.

If you are putting the manual as web pages in HTML, you would typically have many web pages covering single sections.

I guess I'm not certain in what format you want your final product.

In writing, I typically organize things with several files in folders. Descriptive names and even numbering is useful to keep track of things. Then I combine it all into one big file or into a FrameMaker book.

I hope these ideas help.

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Resources

Considering online courses in technical writing

November 13, 2005

Question

After 21 years as an Electronic Designer and CAD Librarian (and a few years as a home improvement contractor) I've come to realize that I would like to enter the field of technical writing. I have researched the career on the internet and a few library books but cannot find any schools that teach it in the NY -Long Island area. The internet offers many "on-line" schools but I question their reputations and the credability of their certificates and degrees. I'd like to go to local university here on L.I. and start training for a either a certificate or degree that would land me an intoductory position here, but I'm a little confused as to how to get started in this field. Can you offer any suggestions?

Glen - USA (8936)

Answer

If you were just starting school, it would be worth getting a degree or certificate in Technical Communication, but with your job experience in electronic design and CAD, you should be able to get a technical writing job for companies doing work in those fields without getting a degree.

If you have written reports or papers in your previous jobs, it would be good to use them as samples of your writing ability. Make sure they are very-well written and without typos or mistakes.

Companies are looking for people with writing skills, technical background and ability to use writing and illustration software. Adbobe FrameMaker is used by many companies, so it is good to at least be familiar with the product. Being able to draw illustrations on a computer or even do simple CAD work is helpful.

Check out ads for technical writers in your local paper, as well as on Monster.com and Dice.com. You can get an idea of the requirements companies have.

Put together a resume, emphasizing writing experience in your various jobs. Also, check into the local chapter of STC and go to some meetings to interface with other technical writers. Find a chapter from www.stc.org.

Best wishes in your new career.

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FM to RoboHelp

What is best for online help?

October 31, 2005

Question

The company I will be writing Help for is deciding whether to use WebWorks or RoboHelp X 5.

Am I better off converting Frame to Word to RoboHelp or converting from Frame to WebWorks help?

Which of these approaches are:

*Easy
*Non-complicated
*Straight-forward
*Direct
*Less time consuming

Also, is it still true that WebWorks help HTML files need to be delivered in the same exact structure and do not constitute one .chm file?

Pardon if some of the assumptions are not true, I have read too much feedback from both sides.

Nandini - USA (8765)

Answer

The latest version of FrameMaker has made the process of converting to RoboHelp much easier, but still it is not perfect. I am sure that WebWorks will do the job. RoboHelp is the "industry standard" but it may also be an overkill, depending on the project.

Cost and future use are a big issue here.

Most help is moving to straight HTML. But still, some applications prefer to use a CHM file.

A couple of resources to help in your decisions are:
http://www.winwriters.com/ and http://www.mshelpwiki.com/

Best wishes in your project.

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Salaries

Wants ideas on getting work

August 31, 2005

Question

I'm a Mathematics Teacher here in Kano. I have the skills and a degree in Mathematics Education. I can learn fast. What i need now is an offline job I can do, say a technical report that could be sent to me and typed out neatly for who ever needs my service.

Any ideas. If yes please let me know through my e-mail address.

Adedirin - Nigeria. (7956)

Answer

The best thing to do is to start close to home. There are a number of websites that list jobs in Nigeria. Many of those jobs are either technical, engineering or Information Technologies. Although you are not applying for those jobs, such companies often need talented people to write reports and other technical documentation.

Send those companies a short cover letter and 1 to 2 page resume' of your skills and experience. You can apply as an employee or as a temporary worker.

Best wishes in getting desired work.

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General

How i can be a good technical writer?

August 2, 2005

Question

Dear, sir/madam
How i can be a good technical writer? and what are the tips to becom so? I finished my Bachelors degree in special English as well as my Bachelors degree in Metallurgial Engineering.

thanking you sir

Rajendra - India (7699)

Answer

An engineer who has skills in writing is in demand, because many engineers are poor writers. Companies need people who have technical skills and can write material that others will understand. I think you would make more money as an engineer who can write, so I would pursue that path first.

But also, as a second direction, you can look toward being a technical writer for companies that work in metallurgical areas. See our section on technical writing for more tips in that field.

Also see http://www.stc.org/chapter_search.asp to find a chapter of the technical writing association in India. They can give good advise.

Best wishes in your career.

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Skills Needed

What is they require experience?

August 1, 2005

Question

Hi
i wanna add if they require the experience
then what to do
and how to prepare for the interview

maria - Pakistan (7680)

Answer

If you do not have work experience, you can provide samples of work you have done, such as papers written in school. If they see your writing skills, they may hire you without experience. But note that using slang such as "wanna" will not get you a writing job. Everything you write, whether it is samples of your work or a simple email must have correct spelling and grammar.

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Salaries

Technical writing in the aerospace industry

July 5, 2005

Question

hi
i am interested in taking up a career in technical writing in the aerospace industry
can u please let me know the future prospects the growth

and also the number of people working in this field in US

thanks

vinay - India (7456)

Answer

You might find information on the number of people in the field from the www.stc.org website. Knowledge of the aerospace industry is important to gain a career in that area. Often engineers do the writing, so you need to have writing skills to be able to take over their efforts.

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5 Ways into Writing

Interested in aerospace industry

June 29, 2005

Question

Hi
i am interested in taking a career in technical writing focusing on Aerospace industry

can you please let me know how many technical writers are there in this field in US.

what will be the future growth and prospects

Thanks
vinay

- USA (7396)

Answer

Check the Society for Technical Communication at www.stc.org to find a chapter near your location. You can get much information about opportunities in your area from the STC chapter, as well as the STC website.

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Indexing in FrameMaker

Having problems finding Text Symbols

June 29, 2005

Question

i made a new document .then i select the chapter and wrote on it .then as your help guide says -go to view>text symbols .but i didn't find the text symbols on my document.i am using the FM 6.0 version.I am surely getting symbols of p shaped but reverted shaped and not the symbol "T" which is a indication that its a index keyword.

Nidhi - India (7402)

Answer

Those instructions were made with an older version of FrameMaker. We will have to update it to the newer version. If Text Symbols is not on the View menu, they may have moved it elsewhere. Perhaps check in the online help to find Text Symbols and help on Indexing.

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Skills Needed

Not sure about all the tools needed

June 14, 2005

Question

hm... i it is clear all to me but what is the use of the technical anyway?
what do they do to us?is that the corel draw... , the adobe photoshop,the MS Word and the other softwares mentioned a while ago was the tools needed in technical writing?

mike - Philippines (7259)

Answer

Technical writing is writing manuals to explain how to use a product or software, as well as manuals for training. Often illustrations are needed. Companies may want to use specific software that they own.

So a number of skills are needed to produce these manuals. If they are to be distributed over the Internet, web design skills are also needed.

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General

Tech Writers should train on Open Source projects

May 19, 2005

Question

Tech Writers should train on Open Source projects

Here's an idea that I think would work out well. Why don't we get colleges who are training tech writers together with the open source community and have them work together?

The problem as you know is that a lot of open source software is great - but the documentation and user interfaces suck. That's because people are doing this work for free and the documentation and program polishing isn't as much fun as new features are.

These writers in training can be assigned open source projects and work with the developers to create good documentation. It would be part of their training requirements to take the project to documentation perfection. This would not only involve writing the docs - but also working with the developers to request better screen prompts and features that make sense. Often the developers don't understand what the end user needs. And the developer never had to actually learn the software.

Additionally the student(s) could conduct software usability tests where they round up a bunch of new users and sit them down in front of computers and watch them learn the software, encouraging them to verbalize their struggles and frustrations as they work. Additionally students would also moderate tech support message boards and interact with end users who are struggling for answers so that they can fully understand the problems people are having implementing the software. This feedback is then used to correct the documentation and polish the software till it gets to the point that new users say, "This is great - it just works!"

After a student takes a project to the "It just works!" stage they are ready for the job market with the open source project as part of their resume and a reputation already developed. These people would be instantly employable having real world experiences and accomplishments to show. And - they would be developing a broader skill set than just a writing class would teach. They would learn how to interact with developers and end users on a personal level and develop the real world skills needed for getting real work done in the real world.

And of course - the developers get a big boost too in that someone else - a professional writer - does the documentation and assists the developers in ways that they might otherwise miss. This frees the developers to develop and to be creative knowing that the grunt work is taken care of. Their software will be more accepted and more widely used because it just works which will attract donations, other developers, and a community around their project. And good free open source software saves many hours of time which benefits everyone in the long run.

Even proprietary software vendors get a boost in that they can hire these writers right out of school and they are ready to be productive from day one. This makes them more profitable because good writers who can work with developers to get the product perfected allows support staff to be cut. If the software "Just Works" then you don't need a lot of people to support it.

This is an idea where everyone wins and it makes me wonder what someone has to do to make it happen.

marc - USA (7024)

Answer

Thanks for sharing your idea. One problem is that colleges often don't want to go away from mainstream methods. So they probably would not cooperate in such an idea.

A solution is that many cities are trying to encourage high-tech startups, like those devleoping open source software. They may set up an intern program to have college writers help with the documentation and such.

You might suggest your idea to the Society for Technical Communication (STC). Their magazine is the Intercom and they might be interested in your views. See the online version at http://www.stc.org/intercom/

Contact them with your ideas at: intercom@stc.org

I like your idea. Perhaps it will go somewhere. Best wishes with your efforts.

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Skills Needed

Wants to get hired in the U.S.

May 5, 2005

Question

Hi,
I came US on H4 and presently in the US to accompany my husband. I am a post grad in Computer science and with Microsoft certification with .NET(MCSD) and expe or 5 in this field.Since I am here on an H4 visa, I am not permitted to work in the US. So I would require the company that hires me on H4 and give tempararily work and to sponsor an H1 visa for me.

I would appreciate any helpful suggestions / advice from your side.
Thanks,

Kirti - USA (6881)

Answer

I assume your husband has a job here. You might check to see if there is any work you could do with the company for which he works.

Another possibility is to find a company that has an office in your native country. They may be interested in helping you.

You may be able to get temporary work with some small consulting firms.

It is not easy, so you will have to try as much as you can. Best wishes in your efforts.

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