What do entry-level technical writers need?

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Comments (3)

Christine H in Chicago, Illinois

40 months ago

Hello all. I am thinking of changing my career to technical writing (amongst other possibilities). What credentials/experience to companies typically want in entry level technical writers? Currently, I have a Bachelor's and Master's in an unrelated (or very distantly-related) field: Education.

However, I can understand a variety of texts, can research and synthesize information quickly, love writing (I have a blog, have written articles for a couple newsletters and am an Examiner on examiner.com), am good at long term planning (and breaking projects/information down into smaller parts), have a knack for classifying information, work well independently (but can work cooperatively as part of a small team) and have an interest in computers/internet. So I think I still have many skills that are necessary for technical writing, but no formal training or technical writing job experience (unless I dig out all the writing skills I have used in teaching).

Is it necessary for me to get formally trained? If so, do I need another degree or would non-credit coursework be good enough to get me in the door?

Any advice is much appreciated!

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Chris at Tech Pubs Solutions in Warwick, New York

40 months ago

Christine... Realize that there are many different types of technical writing. Whatever your current job is may be a factor in the type of technical writing you go into. For instance, pharma is in a world of its own and a chemistry or similar background would help. Technical writing for the banking and insurance industries also requires a specific skill set or education. In addition, for certain types of writing you may need an electronic background. It also helps if you have photography and illustrating skills.

Technical writing has been very good to me over the years, however, working as a contractor, when the economy slowed, so did our business. The answer for me was to start writing and taking photos for area newspapers, but it requires a different mindset. This type of writing is quite different from technical writing since you tend to add a lot more adjectives and adverbs.

One way or the other, do yourself a favor and master MS Word. Some companies use other programs such as FrameMaker and InDesign. But Word is the standard. Learn all you can about using the program, such as generating TOCs and inserting cross-references and so forth. I hope this helped.

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NaTivENYR in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

40 months ago

Christine, get current on the latest software packages ( HTML XML, Robo Help, etc) Employers want these skills almost as much as they want good writers. Bone up on your technical knowledge be prepared to give writing samples. I just got a contract job today @ $30.00 per hour but I have been doing this for over 30 years godd luck and welcome to the club!

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