Skip to main content

Applied Skills Required

Today I was talking to a partner at a regional marketing firm that specializes in STEM clients (medical devices, computer hardware, etc). He said the biggest challenge wasn't finding tech writers — it was finding technically skilled writers.

Some new graduates want to be "tech writers" and have solid writing skills, yet they don't know the software, file formats, mark-up languages, and other tools of the trade. We end up training people on simple tasks: using styles in applications, planning DITA content, etc. Many employers, however, don't want to train new graduates; they assume new graduates have the toolset skills required to start working on day one.

Should "tech writing" programs include more applied skills that go beyond composing and editing to include designing, formatting, and distributing materials? My own academic experience did not include any coursework with hands-on computer time, but I have the advantage of being a computer programmer and technician.

I know the ideal liberal arts education focuses on how to think, not job-specific skills. But, employers don't want to spend time and money teaching someone the "tools of the trade" for any industry. I expect a writer knows Word, an engineer understands CAD software, and a programmer can navigate an IDE without training.

How do we balance the need to teach skills with the ideals of a well-rounded education? How much skills training should be part of a degree program? I realize "technical" and "vocational" institutions focus on skills, instead of abstract knowledge and theory. But, there are some "vocational" skills employers expect, especially from graduates with advanced degrees.

I struggle with what the right balance might be. You can use skills to teach thinking, and you certainly use the skills to create expressions of ideas. An artist will use InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop to express an idea. The skills are integrated into the curriculum out of necessity.

Yet, this skills integration isn't the case in some disciplines. Too many of the aspiring "tech writers" I've met don't know how to use Word properly. They haven't had to use the software of their profession. That's inexcusable, to me. We should be teaching technical skills, somehow, throughout degree programs.

Of course, this leads to a question: Do teachers of writing and communication courses know the tools as well as their counterparts working in private industry? Based on my observations, many writing instructors do not know the tools used to design, format, and distribute materials. Sure, these instructors use Word or InDesign, but they do not use the tools "properly" — they rely on brute force formatting methods.

We don't need to be vocational; we need to use vocational skills to put our theories and ideas to work.


Popular posts from this blog

Slowly Rebooting in 286 Mode

The lumbar radiculopathy, which sounds too much like "ridiculously" for me, hasn't faded completely. My left leg still cramps, tingles, and hurts with sharp pains. My mind remains cloudy, too, even as I stop taking painkillers for the back pain and a recent surgery.

Efforts to reboot and get back on track intellectually, physically, and emotionally are off to a slow, grinding start. It reminds me of an old 80286 PC, the infamously confused Intel CPU that wasn't sure what it was meant to be. And this was before the "SX" fiascos, which wedded 32-bit CPU cores with 16-bit connections. The 80286 was supposed to be able to multitask, but design flaws resulted in a first-generation that was useless to operating system vendors.

My back, my knees, my ankles are each making noises like those old computers.

If I haven't already lost you as a reader, the basic problem is that my mind cannot focus on one task for long without exhaustion and multitasking seems…

MarsEdit and Blogging

MarsEdit (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Mailing posts to blogs, a practice I adopted in 2005, allows a blogger like me to store copies of draft posts within email. If Blogger, WordPress, or the blogging platform of the moment crashes or for some other reason eats my posts, at least I have the original drafts of most entries. I find having such a nicely organized archive convenient — much easier than remembering to archive posts from Blogger or WordPress to my computer.

With this post, I am testing MarsEdit from Red Sweater Software based on recent reviews, including an overview on 9to5Mac.

Composing posts an email offers a fast way to prepare draft blogs, but the email does not always work well if you want to include basic formatting, images, and links to online resources. Submitting to Blogger via Apple Mail often produced complex HTML with unnecessary font and paragraph formatting styles. Problems with rich text led me to convert blog entries to plaintext in Apple Mail and then format th…

Screenwriting Applications

Screenplay sample, showing dialogue and action descriptions. "O.S."=off screen. Written in Final Draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) A lot of students and aspiring writers ask me if you "must" use Final Draft or Screenwriter to write a screenplay. No. Absolutely not, unless you are working on a production. In which case, they own or your earn enough for Final Draft or Screenwriter and whatever budget/scheduling apps the production team uses.

I have to say, after trying WriterDuet I would use it in a heartbeat for a small production company and definitely for any non-profit, educational projects. No question. The only reason not to use it is that you must have the exclusive rights to a script... and I don't have those in my work.

WriterDuet is probably best free or low-cost option I have tested. It is very interesting. Blows away Celtx. The Pro version with off-line editing is cheaper than Final Draft or Screenwriter.

The Pro edition is a standalone, offline versio…