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So, You Want to Be a Technical Writer?


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Presented at Currents Conference 2010, the technical communication conference of the Society for Technical Communication's Atlanta chapter.

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So, You Want to Be a Technical Writer?

  1. 1. So, You Want to Be a Technical Writer? Kathleen Baine Oak Tree Writing Services
  2. 2. Why are you interested in technical writing? One of the top 100 best jobs It pays pretty well Job availability Transition from other careers Transition to other careers
  3. 3. This Presentation What is a technical writer/communicator Types of jobs we have Types of publications we develop Who we work for How to get experience Career paths Education How to get “technical” Tools we use How to find jobs Contract vs Perm Jobs Salaries
  4. 4. Technical Writer Umbrella Technical Communicator User Assistance Developer Medical Writer Science Writer Proposal Writer
  5. 5. Technical Communicator Publications Installation Manuals – hardware and/or software Data sheets User guides – hardware and/or software Procedures Policies Technical Specifications Reference manuals Programmer API guides Software Application Developer Kits Online Help Web sites and web site content Maintenance manuals Training materials
  6. 6. User Assistant Helps bridge gap between users and products Researches and understands users Develop documentation that answers user questions Part of the product design team
  7. 7. Medical Writer Ghost writer for doctors, researchers Editor for medical journals Writer of clinical reports Writes submission documents for regulatory agencies Biological science background or education
  8. 8. Science Writer Journalist focusing on science topics Interface between science and popular culture Information officers for science corporations writing press releases or grants Books on scientific issues Science background or education
  9. 9. Technical Communicator Performs a variety of writing duties Project management Editor Graphic artist Technical publications manager Has empathy for the end user
  10. 10. Department of Labor Write technical materials, such as equipment manuals, appendices, or operating and maintenance instructions. May assist in layout work. May 2008, 47,460 technical writers Average hourly wage: $30.87 Average annual wage: $64,210
  11. 11. Proposal Writer Writes the executive summary Gathers information to respond to the RFP Coordinates the RFP response Ensures ‘one voice’ throughout the proposal Ensures response meets deadline Ensures response is in RFP format
  12. 12. Who Hires Technical Writers? Large companies with existing departments In the Atlanta area, IBM, AT&T, Cox Communications, UPS, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Mirant, McKesson Smaller companies with no writing staff
  13. 13. How to Get Experience Develop a portfolio – class work, anything done in your current or previous jobs, volunteer work publications Work for a larger company where you can gain experience and learn Offer to write in your current job Volunteer to write anywhere – neighborhood newsletter, church activities, sports activities
  14. 14. Career Paths Editor Writer Manager Instructional Designer Trainer Marketing Communications Recruiter Teacher of Technical Writing
  15. 15. Education Bachelor’s degree in something, preferably in technical communication, English, or journalism Master’s degree, preferably in technical communication Bachelor’s degree in a science, Master’s degree in Technical Communication Get technical!
  16. 16. How to “Get Technical” Questions, questions, questions Courses and certificates in a programming language (JavaScript, C++), HTML, CSS Courses in electronics, mechanics, networking, science Gain industry knowledge – chemical, mechanical, RF, aviation, medical
  17. 17. Tools We Use Our brains! Online Help: RoboHelp, Doc-to-Help, Flare, HTML Documentation: Word, FrameMaker, Interleaf, Acrobat, Visio Web development: HTML, Flare, Web Expression, SharePoint Drawing: CorelDraw, Illustrator Photo editing: PhotoShop, The Gimp Screen capture: SnagIt, FullShot
  18. 18. How to Find Jobs Network! STC, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Friends, Acquaintances, Agencies – for contract and perm work Wherever software programming happens, technical writing is needed Where products are created, documentation is needed
  19. 19. Contract vs. Perm Permanent through agency or direct from ads Contract through agency (W-2) Self-employed contract (W-2 or 1099)
  20. 20. Contract Technical Communicators Must have experience to hit the ground running Must have project management experience Expect to be asked to do anything Be flexible No benefits No guarantees – can be let go at any time Can quit if you don’t like it Variety Feeling you are a second class citizen
  21. 21. Permanent Technical Communicators More job security Paid vacations, holidays, sick time Other company benefits (401K, pension, tuition, stock options, etc) Consistency Chance to thoroughly learn a product Maybe boredom Career path
  22. 22. What does it pay? Not as much as it did…. Permanent: $30,000 to start (no experience) Managers: $55,000 and up Experienced Consultants: $45/hour and up Inexperienced contract writers: $20 and up Experienced Contract writers: $35 and up The more technical you are, the more you can earn STC salary survey
  23. 23. The Future for Technical Writers Good! Jobs are opening up More is going to contract work or contract to perm
  24. 24. If you want these slides… Send email to Kathleen Baine 770-265-0751