Reader Response: What Do You Do and How Do You Do It?

A colleague of mine who’s attending the University of Alabama-Huntsville sought to interview me as part of a classroom assignment. I do this from time to time, but that’s not the same as doing someone’s homework for them, in case any of you think that’s what I’m here for. Anyhow, my friend’s questions focused on the types of work I do and what skills I’ve needed/used to accomplish them. Read on!

What Sort of Documents Do You Create?

I answered the following questions:

Using a search engine on the Internet, locate a professional who works in  your chosen field. Write an e-mail asking that person what kinds of documents or presentations he or she needs to produce. Ask how much time the  person devotes to communication on the job.

Re: documents
I write/mostly edit training materials for Nissan and their upscale brand, Infiniti. They send out representatives to the dealerships to help them sell more vehicles, services, and financial products. The participants learn in a classroom environment with one or two trainers leading the sessions, which last 1-5 days, depending on the class. Classroom materials include Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, the trainer script (which appears in the PPT notes), a participant workbook, and sometimes handouts of classroom activity collateral.
I also write/edit proposals, engineering documents, and reports for a couple of space launch companies.
Re: communication on the job
Not sure exactly what is meant by this, as all my documents communicate. However, if your instructor is asking how much time I spend communicating with others about my work, the answer varies by the task. For routine operations, it’s like 1-10% of my time. For new activities or one-off assignments, it might be 10-30%.

Ask whether he or she has  some advice about how to gain and improve the communication skills that you will need in your career.

Shame on me, I forgot to answer this part (hope it’s not too late)!

There are several types of communication a technical writer needs to do on the job, so I’ll  briefly touch on those (click on the links for individual posts I’ve written on these topics):

Aside from reading blogs or books on the subject of communication, my best advice is simply to practice and observe/act on the feedback you receive if your communication style is not working as well as you would like.

Identify an entrepreneur who works in an area similar to the career you  want to pursue. This person could either be someone who started her or his  own business or someone who is working within a company. Write a brief  bio of this person in which you discuss what qualities made this person  a successful entrepreneur.

Here are some posts on this blog you can use as a starting point for constructing my professional bio and identifying useful skills for being a entrepreneur:
As for what in my bio might have contributed to my success as an entrepreneur, I’d have to chalk it up partially to building a strong network when I was a corporate employee. That network of contacts was strong because I worked hard, quickly, and well, and I tried to be pleasant on the job. As a result, those contacts call me when they want a writer based on their past experiences with me. I don’t do a lot of marketing to sell my services.
My corporate experience also allowed me to see how businesses work and how tech writers operated within large organizations.
Lastly, I keep my bills paid by being flexible and by trying new subject matter, skills, and document types. Unless the content is beyond me (requiring knowledge of coding or the ability to read/speak a foreign language), I’m usually willing to try new tasks. I have, however, learned which tasks I do better than others. I operate best translating/explaining complex material for the interested non-expert. I’m less effective in writing sales or dynamic/exciting copy. I hope this was helpful.


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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