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Is Technical Writing Right for You?

Tech Writing Might Be Your Thing

The following article was written by Diane Sommer who has had considerable experience in the tech writing industry. She also put together a great group of resources about technical writing.

Times are tight, and as a writer, maybe you find yourself looking for a new way to use your love for words in a way that generates a more steady stream of income. You come across articles and ebooks on technical writing and wonder if it may be right for you.

Tech Writing Means Many Things

You already know technical writers penned every owner’s manual for all the gadgets and gizmos, appliances and machines in your every day life.

Did you also know they prepare reference manuals, product specifications, assembly instructions, parts lists, help screens and website text? Add to that all the mountains of information they create for businesses – employee handbooks, policy manuals, training manuals, and other documents specific to that type of business.

If your only ambition is to see yourself on the NY Times Bestseller List, obviously technical writing isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you have ever had to wade through a user guide that was so vague or so far over your head that you thought I could have written a better book than this, technical writing may be worth considering.

Tech Writing Requires Communication Skills

Can you communicate, in a logical order, all the steps to guide someone through a process they’ve never done before? If you think about it, you’ve already done some technical writing. You’ve given people directions to your home, maybe walked someone through the steps to making the perfect paper airplane or even cooking the perfect pot roast. You may have created ‘cheat sheets’ for your mother so she can use her computer without calling you a dozen times a day with the same questions. Taking it one step further, can you explain even the most complex technical language so clearly your grandmother would understand?

Tech Writing Requires Research Skills

How are your skills in the research department? Technical writers only spend about 30% of their time writing and the rest of the time doing research. If you are writing about a product or a certain type of software, you may spend a few hours or even a few weeks learning everything you can about it, documenting the steps you took and the questions you had along the way. These notes along with those you take during interviews with engineers, programmers, human resource managers, or other subject matter experts will be the heart of your project. Later, your job will be to turn these scribbles into an indispensable, well-written guide that tells the user everything he needs to know about your subject.

Tech Writing Requires Organization

How organized are you? Susan Bilheimer, author of How to Become a Technical Writer (her website is www.techwritingmkt.com) says, “The ability to organize information is, of course, vital to writing clear instructions. And even if you are not organized and detail-oriented in your personal life (my own life is utter chaos!), you must be able to focus on documenting each step without missing any. …Write thoroughly. Don’t take shortcuts. Again, attention to detail in your work is important.”

If you are freelancing from home, can you stay focused on the project without having a boss standing over you all day? Watching Jerry Springer or riding the Internet all day is much more fun than creating flowcharts and screen captures, but you have a deadline to meet.

When asked for another personality trait that helps a person succeed as a technical writer, Susan said,

    I believe you must be able to ‘roll with the punches,’ shift gears mid-stream. I cannot tell you how often I have had to write documentation for software that wasn’t even developed yet! Or, I will need to talk to a subject matter expert before I can proceed, and the person is unavailable for an extended period of time. Or, the new entire section that took me a month to write has now changed dramatically …and they need the new documentation in 48 hours!

Is technical writing right for you? If you can write clear, concise instructions, enjoy learning new things and picking people’s brains, stay organized and focused, meet deadlines, and “roll with the punches,” technical writing may just be a good writing gig for you after all.

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