Training new hires in technical communication

Kaitlyn Heath / Opinion3 Comments

After an arduous job search process that took place during my senior year in the Professional and Technical Writing program at Virginia Tech, I was recently hired here at Scriptorium. One thing I have learned is that matching candidates, especially new college graduates, and jobs in the world of technical communication can be difficult.

Technical communication is centered around the tools that you use to achieve more efficient writing and content management, like structured authoring and DITA. But many companies often have a hard time building up technical writing teams that have experience using these tools.

I am lucky, though, since I was introduced to DITA at Virginia Tech. Therefore, I am prepared and excited to join a content strategy consulting company that so heavily relies on DITA . Dr. Carlos Evia, the former director of the Professional and Technical Writing program at Virginia Tech, taught me everything I know about DITA and content management. Surprisingly, he is the only one in the country that teaches it at the collegiate level.

Dr. Evia is also studying the gap between requirements for entry level technical writing positions and undergraduate writing curricula. As he moves from the English to the Communications Department at Virginia Tech, he continues to try and bridge the silos that are communications and engineering. He knows that technical writing requires both communications skills and the technical knowledge of coding in DITA or XML.

The bottom line is that writers are not trained to code, and coders are not trained to communicate. When English majors finally decide on a practical writing career, they have a steep learning curve to assimilate into a world they never knew existed.

That means that if you are hiring entry-level employees, unless you are lucky enough to hire a student from Dr. Evia’s program, you will have to train your technical writers yourself from ground zero or poach someone trained by another company.

For now, I am continuing to acquaint myself with the nuances of DITA. Even with a solid foundation, for every tag I know, there is one I don’t. The team at Scriptorium has made every new obstacle seem a little smaller.

About the Author

Kaitlyn Heath

Blooming content strategist with a background in technical writing, literature, and environmental engineering. Virginia Tech 2018.

3 Comments on “Training new hires in technical communication”

  1. I disagree with the premise of the 2nd paragraph. Technical communication most certainly is no t”centered around the tools that you use to achieve more efficient writing and content management.” Technical communication is about developing content experiences to ensure users succeed and reach their goals.

    Depending on the product, the environment, and the users, the toolset for content development can vary wildly from technical writer to technical writer, and while information typing is one fundamental principle that should come naturally to any competent technical writer, DITA and coding are not only not necessary in many scenarios, they are often wildly inappropriate.

    If technical communication is thought of as an engineering discipline, which it properly is, the silos mentioned here melt away because the “technical” and “communication” parts are learned hand-in-hand, at least in a well-designed curriculum.

  2. Congrats on your new position, Kaitlyn. Scriptorium has a great reputation.

    I also want you to know that, although Virginia Tech is among the relative few universities where structured authoring and content management are taught, they are not the only one. We have several courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels at the University of North Texas.

    Good luck!

    1. Thank you, Kim!

      It’s very exciting to know that UNT is one of the universities that offers a major in technical communication/writing and that structured authoring is in the curriculum.

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