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squirbel's avatar

How do I become a technical writer?

Asked by squirbel (3874 points ) November 17th, 2010

People have said my spoken and written English is flawless. Someone mentioned that I should get into technical writing for a while, because it earns quite a bit of money. Honestly, I think I would enjoy myself quite a bit.

If no one noticed, I’m one of those people who wants to do as many things as she can in her lifetime, and I often change what I’m doing, be it work or a hobby.

What are the necessary requirements for entry into that field?
Where would I search for openings in my town? [Huntsville, AL]
What exactly do technical writers do beside write manuals?

Feel free to add any knowledge I may have not known to ask. I feel others will benefit from this question.

Thank you!

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7 Answers

mrlaconic's avatar

I learned by taking the DocuTools writing technical documents users and manuals course.

There are different types of technical writing but one of the most (if not the most) common is the structured method

technical writers create manuals, training materials and other business-critical communications

As far as jobs go craigslist is a good place to look as well as thingamajob has a fair amount of technical writer positions.

crazyivan's avatar

That’s actually what I do for a living (most of the time). Local printers will often hire technical writers freelance and you can make a fair bit of money on the side doing freelance work online. A degree in English will help you out a great deal, but a good portfolio of work is worth a heck of a lot more.

marinelife's avatar

Technical writers also create the Help for software.

crazyivan's avatar

@marinelife Yeah, but in my experience they suck at it…

ChocolateReigns's avatar

I kind of laughed when I saw this question, because my parents were technical writers when they met each other, about 36–37 years ago. From the horror stories they’ve told, I was wondering for a second why you would want to be a technical writer, but then I realized there have been a lot of technological advances since then. I’m sure all those tedious jobs have been eliminated.

squirbel's avatar

Well, if I’m good at something, and there’s a niche for me to make money, I’m apt to try my hand at it. I do not believe in having one career define my person… I want to live.

Jeruba's avatar

@squirbel, are you still considering this career?

Technical writing is one of the high-tech roles that are increasingly being outsourced, along with software engineering. I have seen plenty of stateside technical writers, extremely well qualified and capable people, lose their employment—some of them going without work for years at a time—while so-called writers without training and with only middling English skills were being hired like crazy in Bangalore.

You’d think that would have been good news for editors like me, but not so. It takes many times as long to edit a document written in haste by incompetent help with deficient language skills, for which the editors are blamed and labeled “bottleneck.” It’s frustrating, demeaning, and costly. The solution is to order faster, less exacting editing, because if the editors are marking too many errors, it’s because the editors don’t know how to prioritize for maximum efficiency.

Want to get laughed out of the staff meeting and dropped to the bottom of the team rankings as a nay-sayer (so you’re up first when the next wave of layoffs comes)? Try saying “If the writers didn’t make so many mistakes, the editors wouldn’t have to mark so many changes.”

I would encourage you to consider alternatives if you haven’t already.

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