Skip to main content
Update
Non-financial boards have been closed.

Non-financial boards have been closed but will continue to be accessible in read-only form. If you're disappointed, we understand. Thank you for being an active participant in this community. We have more community features in development that we look forward to sharing soon.

Fool.com | The Motley Fool Community
Message Font: Serif | Sans-Serif
 
No. of Recommendations: 4
Hey imp -

This is totally random thought that came up during the whole childbirth thread.

Ages ago, before DN came back, *I think* you asked about kid-friendly professions that might let you stay at home. Please ignore the rest of this message if that wasn't you. *grin*

If you are ever interested in a career change, I think you'd make an excellent tech writer. That's what I do for a living - I actually got a merit award for it. It still blows my mind because I was the last person in my group of college friends that I pictured writing for a living. My proofing and editing still sucks, but I'm getting better.

Anyway, given how well you write just for fun, I'm willing to bet you'd be a much better and/or more productive tech writer than me.

Even as full time job, it's way more low key than administrator work - the hours are generally better: 9 to 5 or flex unless under deadline.

It pays well and although some of it is moving to India, it's far less likely to go overseas. End users might not care about where the orginal programming was done, but it doesn't pay to send documentation to India only to pay an American editor to make sure there are no "surprises" in the docs stemming from cultural issues etc.

It's also hard to find tech writers that are strong on the technical end of things. My guessimate based on the tech writers I've met is that maybe 1/2 of the field comes from the world of English majors. They aren't necessarily tech savvy or have had any experience supporting users.

As a network administrator, your experience in troubleshooting and teaching people how to use computers is a serious advantage. If you can read code on any level, that's even better.

Anyway, my duty to excise my brain of extranous thoughts is done. Post or e-mail if you want more info. *grin*

JustSilly
Print the post Back To Top
No. of Recommendations: 2
Please be aware that there are tech writing programs all over the country, who educate people on technical writing and its various subfields. My program (http://rhetoricandwriting.ualr.edu) is one of them.

There are also a wide variety of professional organizations, with the largest one being The Society of Technical Communicators (http://www.stc.org) with a fair number of Special Interests Groups. STC has a listing of academic programs on their website. They have a journal (*Technical Communication*) that addresses questions about research and workplace practices. They also have best practices, research, and job conditions.

bleplatt

Print the post Back To Top
No. of Recommendations: 1
Anyway, my duty to excise my brain of extranous thoughts is done. Post or e-mail if you want more info. *grin*

Of course I'd love more info! Back in The Day, when I was fresh out of college, I wrote for web sites. Started writing my own html templates and stuff, since the ones we were getting back were buggy, and violin! A career in IT is born.

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.

impolite
Print the post Back To Top
No. of Recommendations: 2
If you are ever interested in a career change, I think you'd make an excellent tech writer.

Speaking as a code monkey who has to work with tech writers - a good tech writer is worth his/her weight in gold.

Given the number of lousy ones I encounter, I have to believe if you're good at it you can go as far as you like.

-lizmonster
Print the post Back To Top
No. of Recommendations: 0
Heck. I could give her a job part time now. It isn't exactly technical writing, but it is updating security plans and other stuff. The only problem is she has to go thru a background investigation before we can put her on the contract. Government regs.
Print the post Back To Top
No. of Recommendations: 8
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.

-Books

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, well...you 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.


JustSilly
Print the post Back To Top
No. of Recommendations: 0
bleplatt -

I feel I owe you an apology. I followed your link after I wrote my second post.

Master's degree programs *can be* a way of career advancement.

It's just that when money and time is tight, degree programs ask a lot of both resources. My perception is that a Master's degree is not a wide-spread requirement for tech writing, especially when breaking in. I've obviously decided to forgo one for now. *grin*

JustSilly
Print the post Back To Top
No. of Recommendations: 0
I feel I owe you an apology. I followed your link after I wrote my second post. Master's degree programs *can be* a way of career advancement.



We have both an undergraduate degree and an MA program. The Undergrad program asks students to take courses in such things as Document Design, Designing for the Web, Usability testing, Writing Software Documentation, Grantwriting, Technical Style and Editing, Editing for Publication, and a host of other things.

Within these classes, we introduce people the research, practice, and concepts that go far beyond *The Idiot's Guide to Technical Writing*.

Our undergraduates are quite sought after.

barb
Print the post Back To Top
No. of Recommendations: 3

We have both an undergraduate degree and an MA program. The Undergrad program asks students to take courses in such things as Document Design, Designing for the Web, Usability testing, Writing Software Documentation, Grantwriting, Technical Style and Editing, Editing for Publication, and a host of other things.

Within these classes, we introduce people the research, practice, and concepts that go far beyond *The Idiot's Guide to Technical Writing*.

Our undergraduates are quite sought after.


Hey, I could use some of those classes. *grin*

Degree programs have their place. Unfortuneatly, almost by definition, schools can only focus on the research and writing end of it.

Technical writing is much more than writing - it's troubleshooting, self directed research, navigating corporate politics, being a user's advocate.

I'm not an "either/or" person, or at least I try not to be. Through the STC I've gained access to pure research, professional articles, seminars and they have helped improve my writing.

We can talk about designing usuability studies - but there's no replacement for sitting next to a struggling user and trying to figure out how in ?$%# you are going to explain it so it makes sense. I honestly think 2-3 years in a tech support role should almost a pre-requesite to entry level technical writing.

In a sense, The Idiot's Guides and For Dummies lines are the ideal examples of technical writing. In a clear and fun manner they manage relay a great deal of technical information. People actually want to read them.

Isn't that the goal? I'm fully aware many topics don't lend themselves to the "Dummies" style but certainly most technical writing could be improved by using their techniques.

What blows my mind is that most college professors demand a minimum amount of a pages, like the goal of writing is to fill space. The absolute best techncial writing practice I got from my undergrad experience was from a professor that demanded only paper be only 3 pages, be on time, and proofed. He took whole letter grades off after the first 3 proofing mistakes.

Harsh? Yeah but's it is much closer to what actually happens when doing this stuff for a living. People don't want to read volumes, they have other things to do. Oh yeah, you really can't miss deadlines, and have the final doc full of typos and grammar mistakes.

Anyway, my post is already too long. *grin*

I'm not trying to dis you or your program...these are just my thoughts as someone working in the field. *shrug*

JustSilly

Print the post Back To Top
No. of Recommendations: 0
Anyway, my post is already too long. *grin*

OCD: Anyway, my post is too long *and* full of typos. *grin*

Never post in a hurry about writing and then go back and read it. My prof would have definitely given me a D.

*sigh*

I hope you all are having a better day than me...

JustSilly
Print the post Back To Top