Do you want to be a technical writer? Here are some tips and references to help you get started
- Gain experience writing. This is fundamentally the most important tip to getting started as a technical writer. Volunteer with local organizations and offer to write newsletters, create or manage a website or blog, or assist in writing business or grant proposals. (Local organizations often in need of volunteers include schools, libraries, churches, non-profit business groups, etc.) If you are limited in volunteer opportunities, start your own blog for free by signing up with wordpress or blogspot.
- Create a portfolio to showcase your technical writing skills. (For portfolio tips from the expert, check out Jack Molisani’s presentation “Portfolios and Interview Strategies”.) Include examples of a project plan, user guide, data sheets, etc. Select one or more document(s) and publish via multiple desktop publishing tools (e.g., MS Word, Adobe FrameMaker or RoboHelp, MadCap Flare, etc.). Rewrite a poorly written manual or set of instructions and include the before-and-after documentation in your portfolio. Demonstrate your knowledge of authoring tools with output to social media and how to deliver technical documentation in this medium.
- Create an error-free resume. Your resume will generate the first impression of you to prospective employers. If you are seeking a job as a writer, your writing (in any form) will be one of the first skills evaluated. Make a good first impression, and use your resume as a vehicle to introduce your writing skills.
- Network with technical writers, engineers, program managers, etc. to learn about tools of the trade and job resources. Introduce yourself to others in the industry, and share with them your background and your goals. Join professional organizations such as your local Society for Technical Communication (STC) chapter and get involved.
- Seek out technical writing internships and entry level jobs, but don’t be afraid to promote yourself to recruiters and employers seeking veteran writers. Highlight all writing experience with previous employers, and show that you meet the job requirements of an experienced level technical writer even though your skill set was acquired in another industry.
- Learn desktop publishing software. Common tools used by technical writers include MS Word, Adobe FrameMaker, Adobe RoboHelp, and MadCap Flare. Download a free 30 day trial of the software, and seek out on-line tutorials and webinars to guide you through the basics of the product. For more in-depth instruction, invest in a subscription to www.Lynda.com. (If you have technical knowledge in a specific industry, research software requirements used within the industry and familiarize yourself with such products.)
- Familiarize yourself with collaboration tools such as Adobe Acrobat X, Google Docs, MS SharePoint/ Office 365, Serna, wikis, and Zoho Docs. Many organizations implement a collaboration tool for document management.
- Enroll in a technical writing certificate program through an accredited university. While this will not secure a job as a technical writer, the courses will provide an overview as to how to create, manage, and deliver technical content while providing an opportunity to develop portfolio pieces through classroom exercises. Click here for more information on technical writing courses.
- Don’t give up! If you want to pursue a career as a technical writer/ communicator, opportunities will present themselves if you develop the necessary skills, are persistent, and network.
- For more information on technical writing careers and how to get started, check out the following blog posts by fellow technical communicators.
Getting a Technical Writing Job Even If You Have No Experience by Lyndsey Amott (Docsymmetry)