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Tips to Become a Technical Writer

December 5, 2013 2 Comments

Technical writing has changed over the years. Not long ago, illustrations were hand drawn then photographs were taken of the image. Writing programs such as FrameMaker were used to create the document. Today, we use computer-based images taken from Pro/E drawings and XML based writing programs. A lot has changed over the years, but the technical writer’s goal has remained unchanged. To develop clear and logical documentation that the end user can use to repair, service, install, or understand a product. The skill sets for technical writers are in demand, but how do you begin a career as a technical writer with no experience?

Take Some Classes
Learn as much as you can about your chosen field. Take some basic mechanical and/or electronic classes. Learn the basics of how an engine, hydraulic circuit or an electrical circuit functions. Earning a degree such as an AAS Degree in Mechanical Technology or an AAS in Electronics Technology will greatly increase your chances of obtaining a position as a technical writer. Having a degree in one of these fields gives you an upper hand in being able to “Walk the Walk” and “Talk the Talk,” an important trait that every technical writer needs. With this skill, you will be able to understand the engineering terms and technologies, then translate the information into useful text. There are writers out there that know the rules of the English language, such as English or Journalism majors. I’m sure they know the English language and can construct a sentence that doesn’t leave their participle dangling, but are they able to “Talk the Talk?” If not, their copy will suffer and so will their reader.

Write Every Day
Practice makes perfect. Build a portfolio to showcase your new skills. If you don’t have anything to write about, then pick some topics that interest you. For instance, if you use iTunes, write an instruction set detailing how to log on and use iTunes.  If you have mechanical interests, write an instruction on how to change an air filter or how to change the oil in your car. Write these instructions, and then use them as attachments to your resume. If you have a website, post the instructions online. The key take away here is to write clear and concise instructions to show off your talents.

Learn To Use The Tools Of The Trade
Besides learning the mechanical and electrical basics, a technical writer also needs to know some image editing tools such as Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator or Jasc PaintShop Pro (to name a few). Many technical departments have their own illustrators to do this sort of work. But, some do not. It is a good idea to learn the basics of these software packages. When the time comes and minor changes are required on one of your images, you can jump in and make the corrections. A writer should also know how to use the tools that are referenced in the procedures. For instance, while developing an electrical procedure to troubleshoot a broken wire, the writer will reference the use of a digital voltmeter. The writer should know how to use this tool in order to explain its use and how to use it to troubleshoot the broken wire.

Build Your Portfolio
Print off your resume and your new technical documents. Attach them to your electronic resume so you can present them to the hiring manager to showcase your new talents. Having documentation to back up what you know will help in getting your foot in the door. Be sure that the docs are clean and free of any grammar and spelling errors.

Technical Writers are in demand. Take your time to learn some new skills. This will benefit you in your job search. If you want to dive right in, sign up on a freelance site such as eLance.com or oDesk.com. Whether you start writing for an online site or look to write for a company, getting hired as a technical writer is not going to happen overnight. It will take patience and dedication to learn the tools and skill sets needed for this career. But, don’t fret; it will be worth it.

To your success,

Dan

Comments (2)

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  1. Chris Wodke says:

    I think your advise is sound. I am a manager for a procedure department. Practice writing and having knowledge in your area are very important. I got my first job as a trainer because I could show a portfolio of my work. The position was to develop (write) training materials. I had done it as a free lancer and that landed me the job

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