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I had a hard time envisioning how to transition to a tech writer role. I'd love to, but have a hard time seeing how to do it.

Yeah, that's the tricky part, isn't it? *grin*

I hard a time figuring out that, too when I was trying to break into it. I have admit that I lucked out...I had a developer friend at a small company that gave me a referal when I started my part-time business. I put in a bid that was way lower and way less time than the established company. Wa-la! A freelance tech writer was born.

bleplatt's suggestions are excellent. I'm part of the STC myself.

If I were in your shoes, here's what I do:

-Do some research about a speciality you might want to get into

I worked in support and training at a software company, so this was easy for me. There are tech writers for hardware products and all sorts of speciality devices. Whatever your favorite pet projects are work might help you with this one.

-Figure out if you want to freelance or go full time

You can freelance part time and see if you like tech writing. However, with the kiddos, DN, and life it might be hard to fit this in.. It's surprisingly hard to commit 10-20 hours a week to extra work when you want really want to do is have your mind turn to mush in your free time.

Full time has all those obvious stability advantages. The only downside is may need to take a pay cut to get your first job. It might also be the same pay, depending on your current rate.

-Develop a portfolio

This is easier than you might think. Pick a software product or two you know or some products that you might want to specialize in. Then write the manuals.

If your work has has some specialized software that you know inside and out, that's perfect. Chances are the manual will suck anyway. You can write it quickly and be able to show a "before" and "after". (Just be careful with any confidentialty/copyright issues.)

If you are worried about using a commercial product, pick a favorite open source project and write that manual. There are all sorts of projects desperate for documentation.

-Consider school

But not for very long. *grin* I have BA in geology - if I was going for a full-time job I *might* be interested in more education. But it's not really necessary. Some of the tech writers I know have a Master's degree. Truthfully, other than practice, a nifty piece of a paper, and the lowering my net worth by several thousand dollars, I don't what I'd get out of it.

If I were trying to break in, I'd might go for a certificate, either online or locally. Much cheaper and faster and gives you the piece of paper corporations love. If you want to specialize in software, consider a certificate or two in a programming language.


The Idiot's Guide to Technical Writing - excellent. If you only have money for 1 book pick this one. Outlines a typical work days, good writing style, more ideas on "how to get experience" and just a good read.

Untechnical Writing - a good "theory" book about writing clearly.

-Join the STC

I left this one for last. It costs about $120 a year. If you have a good local chapter you'll get all the cost back and more. It can lead to contacts and possible jobs. If you get a bad chapter, know what happened to your money. They usually have low cost educational seminars and both local and the international websites have job listings.

Once you have a portfolio and maybe a certificate, you've got enough to start apply for jobs. (Really!). Sell up your practical experience - I can almost guarantee you that many of the applicants in entry level positions have just an English degree or maybe a technical writing degree with no experience. Not having to bug developers for every issue and being able to ancipate what a user might ask is huge advantage.

If you decide to freelance, I can supply you with some ideas on how to bid on projects.

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