POST #13: Unlucky Thirteen Seems as Good a Time as Any…

To talk about my job. I'm a technical writer, contracted to work for Shell Oil. What's a technical writer, you may ask? Basically, a technical writers are professional writers who design, create, maintain and update many types of technical documentation, online help, user guides, white papers, design specifications, and other documents. All those things you've read (or ignored) that tell you how to do something? They were written by technical writers.

In the past, a lot of manuals were written by whomever on the project drew the short end of the straw and could string some coherent sentences together. Eventually, as the information age grew and the need for documentation grew with it, it became more of a profession, with people trained in not only writing, but also in how to best organize information for the purpose of instruction. It's my job to write up a document in a fashion that will help people grasp the knowledge in the most efficient way.

At least, that's what my job would be were it an actual technical writing job. Instead, my current job is a document migration job, where I take documents that were already written and have been in use with Shell for years, and I'm reformatting them so they look better, are better organized, and will fit into an internet portlet system. I do very little writing, and not even that much editing. I do try to put in the proper punctuation and correct the grammar when I can, but there are a lot of limits to how much I can actually change, since the documents are owned by others.

So it's not the best job, or the best use of my talents. But, it's my first job in the field, and I got it right after I finished my certificate in Tech Writing in school (unlike when I got my BA in History, which led to no jobs whatsoever). I've been doing it for over a year now, and will probably stay on till sometime after Christmas. The people there are all nice, and respect me and my abilities (or… at least they do to my face), and the pay is pretty great, as it tends to be in this field. Most people in professional capacities can't write worth a damn, so people like myself are a valuable asset (actually, I should probably just amend that to say most people in the world can't write worth a damn and leave it at that). Ultimately, I'd like to jobs where I actually draft documents and learn about the things I'm writing about, but for now, the paycheques are enough to keep me interested.

If you are a struggling BA with writing ability (perhaps an unemployable History or English major), I'd recommend checking out some courses in Tech Writing if they're available. It's not as creative as you might like, but you will be getting paid to write and live in the world of language. Jobs should be there to be had (albeit probably not steady jobs. Generally, it's a field of contract work, as many companies hire to re-haul their documentation, then no longer need the writers). I'm hoping it'll be my paycheque job that allows me to maybe pursue something else later in life. And, hey, Kurt Vonnegut worked as a technical writer for General Electric, so that's kinda cool.

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