How To Get Started In Tech Writing

by Anne Wayman

questions about freelance writingHi Anne,

Let me introduce myself.

I am an MBA-HR post-graduate and a science graduate. Post MBA HR-am working in a Manpower consultancy in Bangalore area.

I came across this field of Technical Writing and wanted to enter it.

What would you suggest?

Best regards,
Sridhar N

Hi Sridhar, 

Back in the day I got my first tech writing job by attending a computer conference and wandering around handing out business cards and telling folks if they could explain it to me I could write a manual that users could actually use, reducing their customer service costs. It worked and I started documenting printers of all things. While it’s entirely possible that approach would still work, these days there are all sorts of other methods.


The first thing to sort through is what kind of technical writing do you think you want to do? Hardware documentation? Software? Consumer goods? Something else? Tech writing is a broad, generic description. Most of us think computers when we here it, but my son has a tech writing job with a medical device company – everything from toasters to content management systems need documentation of some sort.

You also need to know what skills you bring to the job. For example, I pulled this list of skills from a job posted for a Junior Tech Writer on Dice.com:

DESIRED TECHNICAL SKILLS:

Strong communication skills and attention to detail.

Proficiency with Microsoft Office applications (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Visio) and presentation/graphics programs such as the Adobe Creative Suite; familiarity with social media.  Basically, someone who has had a lot of computer face time using MS Office, Adobe, and Graphics programs.  Plus an understanding the social media tools like LinkedIn, FB, Twitter etc.

Familiarity with current technology, e.g., virtualization, server-based computing, cloud computing, information security, storage.

I actually qualify for this job and so would many others. Of course, it’s a full time job in New York city… not my thing, and I suspect not yours. But it does demonstrate that you may not need heavy tech skills to get started.

Another approach is to get some sort of technical writing certificate. There are all sorts of them available – just search for them and pick a program that makes sense to you.

There are also lots of places to look for tech writing jobs. Dice.com is one of the original places tech writing jobs get posted and it’s still a good source. There are many others now, including Craigslist.org which was also active early on. Elance lets you bid on them and a search on the phrase, tech writing jobs on Google, brings up a staggering number of resources.


Of course, Manpower, your company, also places contract tech writers – that might be your best opportunity.

Do you have a question about freelance writing? Email me with Q&A in the subject line and I’ll do my best to answer you.

How did you get started in your chosen writing field?

[sig]

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron - SEO Copywriting Blog August 14, 2012 at 11:24 am

I would say, technical writing is much more complicated than it sounds to be, and you need to be able to understand information technology in and out, and write a simple piece on that.

As a matter of fact, most of the technical writing positions ask for engineering or science graduates. And there’s a reason behind that.

If you want to get into technical writing, prepare your tech fundamentals for it.
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annew August 15, 2012 at 10:40 am

Ron, that’s true for some tech writing – but not all of it is highly technical. You need to be able to talk with engineers and translate what they say into something a normal person can understand… and in the case of say toasters, you don’t need that much.

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Michael Davis August 14, 2012 at 8:39 am

Can you move directly into technical writing if you have other writing experience, such as marketing communications or journalism?

The answer to that question used to be “yes,” but more and more often I’m convinced that today’s answer is “not without additional training.” The marketplace (for all jobs) is much more competitive than it used to be. For current writers who wish to move into technical writing I’d recommend following one or more of the steps above.
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annew August 15, 2012 at 10:39 am

Michael, I suspect you’re mostly right, although since she’s not in this country (U.S.) and since she works for Manpower, she might be an exception. And I think it still can be done if you’ve got enough moxie.

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