RE: gearing up to be a tech writer

Subject: RE: gearing up to be a tech writer
From: Jonathan Kajeckas <jgkaje -at- wm -dot- edu>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2001 17:08:02 -0400

Thanks to all who took the time to respond to my request for advice on how to prepare to be a tech writer, ideally able to work from home as a contractor. I thought I'd summarize for the list the advice I received.

I received several responses addressing:
1) technical training, specifically MCSE certification and other technologies that employers might find attractive, such as Linux. A few respondents openly questioned the value of an MCSE unless I want to do system administration or write specifically about Windows 2000. A few reported pockets of employer interest in Linux, and one writer from Seattle reported great interest in XML.

2) tools for technical writing, such as Framemaker, TeX, and Word (in the context of the MOUS Word Expert exam). Though one writer from Colorado says she never sees a request for it and a few others wrote that clients often want Word, I received several messages urging me to purchase Framemaker while I qualify for an academic staff discount. TeX is apparently not used outside academia; I asked about it because I had seen it's structured document model favorably compared to Framemaker. Technical writers are apparently assumed to be experts in Word, and no one has seen the MOUS exam requested or touted. I received mixed but generally favorable reviews of Visio as a flowcharting tool, but more than one writer suggested that I would be better off with a graphics package, Acrobat, and website management tool. One writer reported many tech writing job offers based solely on his knowledge of Robohelp. Scripting languages met with a yawn (no doubt different for webmasters), VB was considered okay though not compelling, and C++ more valuable.

3) job searching. I heard from a few writers that telecommuting is an option usually granted to full-time staff after a time, and rarely given to full-time contractors; on the other hand, one writer said she had difficulty finding full-time work until she had some contractor experience. Several people offered suggestions on how to look for contract work on the web, including (perhaps the most prolific), (this one has Technical Writing as a specific category), and (membership-based, smaller and more select). I found quite interesting an article by Donald Le Vie on flat fees vs. hourly rates, available from the STC archives at I received generally good recommendations about placement services for technical writers. Two that I have found are and

Finally, several people wrote about the experience of living and working in Sonoma County, where many tech jobs are drying up and the cost of housing is quite high, and the scenery is still beautiful. Many thanks for all your comments.

Jonathan Kajeckas
IT Liaison for Morton


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RE: gearing up to be a tech writer: From: Michael Davidson
RE: gearing up to be a tech writer: From: Scott Turner

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