Technical writing is one of those jobs in which you're constantly learning. New tools, new techniques, new methodologies. No one knows it all. That's especially true for the new technical communicator. If you've graduated from a writing and rhetoric course or a technical writing course, you have a pretty good grounding in craft. But you're really only at the base of the mountain. There's still a lot to learn, and if you keep your eyes and ears and mind open then you can quickly pick up what you need to know.
Passion, though, is a funny thing. It's easy to become passionate about something. But the fire of that passion can also be easily dimmed or extinguished, often due to circumstances that are beyond your control. Throughout your career, you'll definitely find your passion waxing and waning. But holding on to that passion and nurturing it will make you a better technical communicator.
So you've just started out as a technical communicator, or you've been on the job for a year or two. And you've decided that maybe, just maybe, technical communication is the career for you and you're in it for the long haul. Now what? Think about the future and how you want your career to develop.
A friend asked the going rate for author's royalties on a technical or trade paperback, so I asked some people what they received. A few wrote back with extremely enlightening and fascinating comments. I passed these notes on to other authors, and received yet more interesting reading back. I have now edited all these comments down a bit, mostly taking out the names of authors and publishers and removing publisher specific comments.
My concern for US writers is that they fail to grasp the momentum that counties like India have established and the high quality of university graduates they are now producing. In the next 10-15 years, IT jobs which can be replicated offshore/offsite to lower costs will be embraced more aggressively. US companies have little choice but to do this.
One of the problems I’ve had to combat over the years has been boredom/burnout — that feeling you get either when you’ve been on the same project for too long or a you’re on new project that just feels like exactly what you’ve been working on for years. How do you breath life into work that you’ve done many, many times before?
Information development organizations are under increasing pressure to implement single-sourcing or other automated and highly structured document development processes. Forces driving this trend include translation requirements, niche marketing, the convergence of software and documentation, and shrinking cycle times and budgets. Initially, these changes threaten to remove everything that is challenging and interesting about the technical writer’s work. However, technical writers who successfully adapt to this new environment will find more opportunity than ever to use their analysis and writing skills and to develop additional negotiation and process management capabilities.
There has been a tremendous growth in the software industry and some growth in technical writing. Most of my columns ten years ago were rants about the poor state of our manuals and our software. Today, I think the humblest of companies is producing great stuff. The reason for it is simple--globalisation and the Internet.
A DVR operating instruction manual. An assembly manual for a coffee table. A how-to guide for using the latest smart phone. What do all of these have in common? They are the results of the hard work of a technical writer. For those who are tech savvy and keep a copy of a MacBook instruction manual handy for their bedside reading, a career as a technical writer may be the right fit. Your job as a technical writer would be to translate difficult-to-understand information into layman's terms (think: operating instructions, how-to manuals, assembly instructions, and online help information). You may work in engineering, scientific, or healthcare fields, simplifying highly specialized information for the average Joe. Also, you'd work with computers and electronic publishing software, including graphic design, page layout, and multimedia software. Some technical writers who are self-employed or work for a technical consulting firm do freelance or contract work.
Estimating the amount of time it takes to write documentation is tricky as it relies on many differing, subtle, factors and, for many people working outside of a highly regimented and heavily project managed team, it tends to boil down to a mixture of guesswork and experience. However, it’s not impossible to come up with a more reasoned estimate as long as you don’t mind doing a little planning.
This article offers tips on breaking into the field of freelance writing—some from Alice Osborn herself, some from two of the books she recommends: "Secrets of a Freelance Writer" by Robert W. Bly; and "The Renegade Writer" by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell.
I love my job but don’t feel the managers think it’s important, partly because of the noise. I also sometimes feel that I’m just an ISO requirement. I’ve also heard from techs that customers don’t look at the manuals; they just put them on a shelf. Any thoughts?
Technical Writers compose communication from product developers for users of the products. Users include consumers as well as scientists, engineers, plant executives, line workers, and production managers. Writers must write in a concise and easy-to-read manner for consumer publications or in highly specialized language for experts. With the increased use of desktop publishing, Technical Writers increasingly are responsible for the publication process including graphics, layout, and document design. Technical Writers create product instructions, reference and maintenance manuals, articles, project proposals, training materials, technical reports, catalogs, brochures, online documentation and help systems, Web pages, multimedia presentations, parts lists, assembly instructions, and sales promotion materials.
For future job seekers: Always be prepared. In today’s day and age a layoff can happen to anyone, no matter how secure you may think your job is. That doesn’t mean you should walk around with a cloud of doom over your head but it does mean you should be aware and somewhat prepared if it does. Keep your resume up-to-date and make note of milestones and accomplishments in your current job.
Beach time and bench time refer to paid or unpaid time off between consulting contracts. When you are a contractor, it is best to take initiative and find other options no matter how much you trust your recruiter. Never trust a company to have your best interests in mind.
I couldn’t picture myself as a big time advertising writer, but technical writer was something that I figured I could do. I had plenty of computer experience. Half of my personal debt was related to computer equipment. I had been on the Internet since before there was a World Wide Web. I had a degree in creative writing and I had been an editor and writer for a few minor publications. Technical writer seemed obtainable.
What can you expect from a career in technical writing? The answer depends on a couple of factors. Specifically, will you be a lone technical writer or part of a technical writing team? Will you be a freelance technical writer or an employee?
Most professional writing jobs still require a college degree either in the liberal arts with a preference for Communications, Journalism, and English. Competition is expected to be less for lower paying, entry-level jobs. Writers who fail to gain better paying jobs usually can transfer readily to communications-related jobs in other occupations.
The market for English majors is poor; yet with concentration, awareness of skills, strong support, and sufficient information, recent graduates and career changers can find excellent positions. In 1980, after performing two surveys of the career paths of 550 humanities majors and publishing a guide to career options, I resigned my academic post and began a full year of part-time teaching, medical and technical editing, and several other jobs, including career counseling. As a career counselor I collaborated with another former academic to develop a variation on the familiar career seminar for humanities majors.