Breaking into Technical Writing

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Phyll in Boston, Massachusetts

74 months ago

I completed a Technical Writing course last year, but it has not gotten me very far. Even the most entry level technical writing positions elude me. I have 13 years of Accounts Receivable/Collections experience and admittedly very little Technical Writing experience, however I did not think that the most basic start would be so hard. What steps can I take to break in? I am willing to intern or freelance while I work fulltime, but I don't know where to begin.

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Andy in Union Grove, Alabama

74 months ago

I graduated from college a few months ago and I am looking to get into the technical writing field. In my job searches, I haven't been able to find anywhere that will take an entry level writer. Somebody please help me find any where, particularly on the the East Coast, where I could start this career.

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shjef in Phoenix, Arizona

74 months ago

I wouldn't count on Technical Writing as a career. They are outsourcing Tech Writing to India.

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Writer in Mead, Colorado

72 months ago

I am a technical writer and have been for 12+years. I have never found work difficult to find. I was a secretary for years and evolved into writing along with school. It was actually a natural tranisition and I love it.
Being flexible, learning a technical field (telecom, storage, etc.) is incredibly helpful. Also having a good contact within the company - really use your networking skills.
Also I have not found the outsourcing of technical documentation to be a threat. It is obvious when a writer's first language is not English. It clearlydoes not work well at all.
So relax, hone your skills (FrameMaker...) and look for a niche, find an area that you are interesed in. The best writers, like the product that they are writing about.
Good luck!

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Kate in Washington, District of Columbia

72 months ago

Phyll in Boston, Massachusetts said: I completed a Technical Writing course last year, but it has not gotten me very far. Even the most entry level technical writing positions elude me. I have 13 years of Accounts Receivable/Collections experience and admittedly very little Technical Writing experience, however I did not think that the most basic start would be so hard. What steps can I take to break in? I am willing to intern or freelance while I work fulltime, but I don't know where to begin.

People don't hire technical writers based on education but on experience and portfolio. You can do the following to help your chances:

1. Build a portfolio with an example of at least the following:
* Product documentation (take an appliance with bad documentation in your house and rewrite it. Don't rewrite IKEA - their documentation is already good.)
* Procedures for software - at least ten tasks.
* Procedures for hardware - comprehensive
* PowerPoint presentation - Maybe an information session on interest rates or something technical where you can showcase your skill in explaining a complex topic.
* Simple website

All of the above don't need to be published. Create all of the above, put them in a nice portfolio, and add a sheet for each project explaining the project, the scope, and your role.

When you get a job, add your projects to it. My portfolio was immeasurably helpful to me when starting out, because I'd be the only entry level candidate with one, and it gives employers proof that you know what you are doing.

2. Volunteer, so you can build your portfolio.
Volunteer for a local organization. There are always non-profits who need their websites redone, and if you volunteer with them, you can have a real website out there that is your work.
3. Put your resume and portfolio online. Get some personal web space, put them online, and include the URL on your resume.

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Jon in Lanham, Maryland

71 months ago

Phyll in Boston, Massachusetts said: I completed a Technical Writing course last year, but it has not gotten me very far. Even the most entry level technical writing positions elude me. I have 13 years of Accounts Receivable/Collections experience and admittedly very little Technical Writing experience, however I did not think that the most basic start would be so hard. What steps can I take to break in? I am willing to intern or freelance while I work fulltime, but I don't know where to begin.

Yeah, I'm with other replies that it's something you have to slide into somewhat obliquely. I was doing something else I didn't particularly like at a tech company that I did like. So I starting taking on freebies for the tech pubs team because they were understaffed. It just went organically from there.

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Jim in Vancouver, British Columbia

71 months ago

Jon in Lanham, Maryland said: Yeah, I'm with other replies that it's something you have to slide into somewhat obliquely. I was doing something else I didn't particularly like at a tech company that I did like. So I starting taking on freebies for the tech pubs team because they were understaffed. It just went organically from there.

Same here, I worked in a tech company alongside technical writers and decided I liked what they were doing better, and asked to transfer to their group.

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Techone in Portland, Oregon

70 months ago

Phyll in Boston, Massachusetts said: I completed a Technical Writing course last year, but it has not gotten me very far. Even the most entry level technical writing positions elude me. I have 13 years of Accounts Receivable/Collections experience and admittedly very little Technical Writing experience, however I did not think that the most basic start would be so hard. What steps can I take to break in? I am willing to intern or freelance while I work fulltime, but I don't know where to begin.

Start with companies in your area of experience (e.g., Accounting software), processes and procedures (utility companies, government agencies). Society of technical communication, informational interviews to build up a network of people who know you're looking, anything which gets you face to face. People hire "good impressions."

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Writer in MA in Boston, Massachusetts

69 months ago

Keep in mind that competition these days is intense. For this reason you must be persistent. Open an account (free) on LinkedIn.com. Look around for industries and companies that interest you. Find some names of people open to contacts and contact them. Ask for informational interviews - this gets you into people's offices, infinitely better than being on the other side of an electronic wall.

Internships, even unpaid can be very helpful. Look in Craigslist.org, Boston, Writing and Editing jobs. Because Craigslist is so much cheaper for job posters than other job sites, you are more likely to find internships there.

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Stephani in Snoqualmie, Washington

69 months ago

I have juggled both Technical Writing and Training Curriculum Development for 5 years now. I had ZERO TW experience, but held a Support role in IT for several groups and software platforms. I had a huge passion for writing and could easily translate technical speak into layman's terms. I put together a proposal to my IT Director and he gave me the opportunity to work on a few project teams in a research and writing capacity.

I slowly took on more work in that arena and eventually transitioned to it full time. I am now spending more time on training and curriculum, but still very involved in TW.... But I have no degree and no fancy experience. I concentrated on an area I knew well and evolved the job role to fit my department/company's needs.

I read blogs and newsletters on TW daily, bought a few Dummy books, and that's about it. The fact that you took a class shows your interest and aptitude. I personally do not think a long drawn out education is necessary for TW, however, I know it has become increasingly competitive.

Good luck and know that the jobs are out there, although you might need to start in one capacity, become a SME (or get in the SME's pockets)and work into the role.

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gplea in Raleigh, North Carolina

65 months ago

I'm just now entertaining TW'ing as a career, starting late in life (50). Actually, a good s'ware developer friend, who steered me away from learning JAVA to write mini-apps, suggested this move. As I told him, I studied COBOL back in '85, and have had about 10 years in troubleshooting networks, high-end printing, and high-end AV equipment with excellent customer service. I've also had many people rave over my writing skills. I was even drafted at a job years ago to write a newsletter to boost employee morale. It was kind of a cross between Rolling Stone mag, and Andy Griffith horse sense. So, keeping that type of experience in mind, I'm wondering how well it would serve me in this endeavor.

As I also told my friend, I was thinking that if there was a technical niche that I'm WAY familiar with, it is pro-sumer audio production (DAW) software. After reading Kate's advice, which seemed quite logical, I thought I could start with a "Getting Started" manual, or maybe even freelance on my own and do an entirely independent manual on the same software.

Still, another question I have is what is the best way to set myself apart from the competition? For instance, I thought in the niche that I'm interested in that I might use humorous analogies that don't have anything necessarily to do with the subject at hand. I DO understand that it's not my place if I'm working for a company to inject things like that, unless it is specifically asked for. I understand that part of professionalism quite well. However, knowing the creative community as well as I do that would be reading the material, it would keep their attention span a bit longer.

Another question I have is there any advantage to have the particular method of communication that emphasizing visualization, as opposed to other methods? After all, in many of the manuals that I read it's the language itself that gets more in the way than the actual task itself. Does that make sense to you veterans?

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Susolov in Houston, Texas

64 months ago

shjef in Phoenix, Arizona said: I wouldn't count on Technical Writing as a career. They are outsourcing Tech Writing to India.

...and we're helping them with our advice here.

Take care,
Peggy

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Susolov in Houston, Texas

64 months ago

Andy in Union Grove, Alabama said: I graduated from college a few months ago and I am looking to get into the technical writing field. In my job searches, I haven't been able to find anywhere that will take an entry level writer. Somebody please help me find any where, particularly on the the East Coast, where I could start this career.

Been there...it's a hard field to find permanent work. You'll get through it like I did.

TIPS:
Join the Society for Technical Communication (STC).

Try getting internship.

LEARN how to write a resume and interview. Write simply, offer your talent, do not embellish. Always ask for the job in a cover letter or resume--sound very interested. Always Thank the recruiter and interviewer.

USE your class projects to make a portfolio to show off your work and build your confidence.

A local organization, HAL PC, teaches classes on software, building a computer, fixing a computer and other useful stuff for members cheap ($40). Look for one in your area. Also, "Work Force" Texas employment office teaches classes for free in MS Word and other MS software.

LEARN publishing software such as: Framemaker, MSWord, RoboHelp, InDesign.

LEARN grahpic skills like Corel Draw, Adobe Illustrator, and Photoshop. PowerPoint is a useful tool for learning some basic graphics.

LEARN Adobe Acrobat - I use that a lot at work and it's easy to use once you know a little bit.

LEARN Web Production: Front Page, Dreamweaver. It's easier than you think, but it is an impressive skill. Create a Blog - I don't know how though.

To practice, DOWNLOAD TRIAL VERSIONS OF SOFTWARE from the Internet.

Write a software user manual from scratch for your portfolio. Create a Web site with samples of your work. Write for volunteer organizations: newsletters, grants, Web sites.

Keep busy, keep learning, and keep creating something.

Peg

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missaugustina in Seattle, Washington

62 months ago

Write documenation for Open Source Software projects!!

www.fsf.org/campaigns/

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Jhardesty in Seattle, Washington

59 months ago

shjef in Phoenix, Arizona said: I wouldn't count on Technical Writing as a career. They are outsourcing Tech Writing to India.

This is not true at all. Tech Writing is a very viable career and has been growing every year for over a decade now.

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