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Feedback Q&A on Technical Writing

by Ron Kurtus

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

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



List of next 10 letters

Topic

Title

Country

General Must create single source manual and online help USA
 
General Wants to become a content writer India
 
Resources I want to become a technical writer India
 
Marketing as Independent Wants to start business with 1 1/2 years experience Pakistan
 
Steps in WebHelp Wants trademark superscript India
 
Champion Tools required for a technical writer India
 
Salaries Thinking of being a technical writer USA
 
General Technical interview questions for writer in IT industry India
 
Process Trying to organize a technical manual USA
 
Resources Considering online courses in technical writing USA
 

Next 10

 




First 10 letters


Must create single source manual and online help

Topic: General

Question

October 3, 2006

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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Wants to become a content writer

Topic: General

Question

October 2, 2006

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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I want to become a technical writer

Topic: Resources

Question

September 1, 2006

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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Wants to start business with 1 1/2 years experience

Topic: Marketing as Independent

Question

March 28, 2006

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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Wants trademark superscript

Topic: Steps in WebHelp

Question

March 3, 2006

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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Tools required for a technical writer

Topic: Champion

Question

February 24, 2006

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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Thinking of being a technical writer

Topic: Salaries

Question

February 1, 2006

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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Technical interview questions for writer in IT industry

Topic: General

Question

January 26, 2006

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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Trying to organize a technical manual

Topic: Process

Question

December 14, 2005

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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Considering online courses in technical writing

Topic: Resources

Question

November 13, 2005

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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Summary

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