How to Become and Further Develop as a Technical Writer

Posted in TechComm on 3/22/20187 min read

A woman writing

In 2010 US News and World Report named technical writing one of the "50 Best Careers" in the world. The demand for technical writers is still on the rise and this writing niche is one of the most profitable nowadays.

The following article is going to make a quick introduction into the concept of technical writing, describe necessary education and training essential to dive into the niche and some opportunities to develop further as a technical communication professional.

What is Technical Writing?

Technical Writing is a writing niche specialized in explaining how things work, and helping others to perform specific tasks and accomplish selected goals. Technical writers create procedural or “how to” documents which are step-by-step guides, knowledge bases, troubleshooting documentation, and other types of technical documentation.

If you are interested in becoming a technical writer, the following tips may help you get started. Below we’ll cover a range of approaches for building your reputation as a professional, and recite the skills you will need in order to become competitive. Necessary Education and Training

In order to compile the following recommendations, we’ve searched through thousands of job postings in the field of technical writing. We’ve come to a conclusion, that technical writer candidate should have the following education and training.

A Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, Communications or a related field is the most asked in job descriptions. These programs teach basic written communication skills. An advanced degree is necessary if you want to be ahead of your competitors.

Hands typing on a laptop

Many universities offer certification programs in technical writing and communication. Some of them are managed by the English department, and some by Engineering program. Please note that the content of these two courses is different: classes in the Engineering program may have more of a technical focus than those of an English program. Such certificates will give you an advantage over other candidates if you already have a degree and some experience in the field.

There are also some additional skills that HR managers are looking for in candidates for a technical writer position. They include strong writing and communication skills, technical experience specific to the role, industry knowledge and interest, and other skills of a good technical writer. Continue reading and learn more in the What HR Managers are Looking For section!

How to Build a Portfolio

Years ago only creative professionals had to have a portfolio. Nowadays every specialist is required to have one. When a company chooses to employ you, it is ‘purchasing’ your business services. Therefore portfolio gives you a chance to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and experience in the field to the potential employers.

Start by gathering all the examples of your work in your portfolio and sorting them out from the most to the least impressive ones. In the field of technical communication it’s essential that you pick the projects that show your writing skills, ability to gather information, and your presentation skills, i.e. how clearly you can present information to others.

A team solving problems

Here’s a piece of advice from Ellis Pratt, a Consulting Technical Communicator and Director at Cherryleaf:

"Look at how you can get some relevant writing experience that you can include on your CV. A lot of the open source software projects look for people to write the manuals. You could put yourself forward to join one of the writing teams. You could write procedures for a local charity. The ability to write well and to deliver on time are the two most important skills to have, so a portfolio of examples can help demonstrate this to prospective employers."

If you’ve never worked in the technical communication field, you can find an open-source software application that doesn’t have help content and write some! Here are some ideas:

Finally, remember, that your portfolio can take many formats. Printouts can be arranged in a binder. Online projects can be posted to a personal website.

What HR Managers are Looking For

When looking for a job, keep in mind the traits and skills that managers are seeking in technical writers and communicators. Beyond a basic set of skills and knowledge, they want to know that you are capable of managing projects and meeting deadlines. Relevant project management experience will bring you an advantage on the market.

A team

Potential employers will also want to see some ambition for your career. If you are excited about the field and about certain aspects of your job, you are more likely to perform well and become the most valuable player in the team.

A potential employee for the position of a technical writer must also be able to adapt to the documentation tools the department uses on a daily basis. Our recommendation is to develop a bit of experience with one tool in each class. For example, if you’ve worked in ClickHelp, chances are you’ll be able to adapt to working in a similar help authoring tool.

How to Further Develop as a Technical Writer

Technical writing is constantly changing due to technological progress. If you keep up with these changes and adapt accordingly, you will gain an advantage over your competitors.

Focus on learning cutting-edge skills. Develop your expertise in content management systems (CMS), single-sourcing, social media documentation, and other industry-shaping technologies.

If you are working in the sphere of technology, web development skills will make you a more valuable employee on the market and a more valued player in the team, as more technical documentation is prepared and submitted online.

Tom Johnson, a technical writer from California, recommends to start your own techcomm blog because it’ll make you learn more and constantly grow and develop as a professional:

"If you want to be successful, start a blog on technical communication and contribute to it regularly. Doing so will force you to read, ponder, and apply principles of tech comm to your everyday activities. It will keep you engaged and relevant. And it will make your job more interactive and fun, since you will see opportunities to analyze and reflect on the stories that happen to you everyday in the workplace."

A man working on a laptop

Finally, Julie Norris, a professional with 30+ years of experience in the field of Technical Communication, gives the following advice:

“Stay current. Read. Observe. Participate. Dream.

Stay current with new technologies and methods. Choose a secondary subject in which to develop expertise, such as social media or usability. As far as skills go, I would say to absolutely learn HTML/CSS and XML. I’d also suggest basic database design. Staying current is, to me, the most important consideration.

Read everything you can get your hands on. You must keep up. Also, you never know what you may end up writing about and documenting, so look at everything.

Observe what’s occurring in technology and business in general to try and keep up with and anticipate trends. Keep an eye on marketing for social media developments. See what’s happening in the world, particularly with the ways people share and obtain information.

Participate everywhere you can. It’s a social, interactive world now. The days when the writer essentially worked alone are over. These days, everyone is involved in creating documentation. So join in as many conversations as you can. Learn how different options and formats work. Share information, learn from other writers, from users, from everyone.

Dream and imagine what’s possible. Work to turn your ideas into reality. The industry - as well as most - is in a state of upheaval due to demographic and technological changes. Much is being built (or rebuilt) from scratch. This is your time. This is your opportunity. In the 20+ years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve never seen a more exciting time. So dream big. Share your ideas. Experiment. Jump in and help shape the future of tech comm. Welcome aboard!”

Ready to Become a Part of the Techcomm Community?

Technical writing is a fascinating writing niche, that is constantly evolving due to the rapid technological growth and development. In order to become a techcomm professional and be ahead of your competitors, you should keep up with changes. We hope, that tips given in this article will help you to build a career and to become an expert in the field of technical communication.

Good Luck with your technical writing career!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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