Re: Technical Writer Questions

Subject: Re: Technical Writer Questions
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 15 Dec 2001 18:55:04 -0800

Steve Lefevers wrote:

From what I've heard the pay is fairly decent (Entry Level $15 to $20 an
More or less, but there's a lot of variation, depending on the job and your skills. Two things to consider:

- Are you willing to take less to get experience?
- Have you set your asking price too low because you've heard this figure?

and almost all the Technical Writer Jobs are Contract Jobs and last
3-6 months. True or False?

Again, there's a lot of variation. Some people work only in so-called permanent jobs - which by high-tech standards, means that they change jobs every two to three years. Others prefer to work on contract, which last anywhere from three months to three years.

The availability of contract work varies considerably. During the dot-com craze, contract work was harder to find. But when times are tough, as in the last year, contract work becomes more common than permanent work; that seems to be the case now.

I've heard that most Technical Writing Jobs require you to have experience
with both RoboHelp and Microsoft Frontpage. These are 2 of the most
important programs.

These are common tools, but not the only ones. It's more accurate to say that knowledge of Windows Help and HTML are useful job skills. Even then, however, many jobs require neither.

In general, it's a good idea not to get too fixiated on the tool itself. In learning RoboHelp, for example, try to learn what Windows Help in general requires, not just how to use RoboHelp. Then if you're ever called on to use Doc-to-Help, Help Magician, or any of the other tools for Windows Help,you'll be able to learn them in an afternoon.

Therefore if I do good in both of these classes, would I be qualified to get
a decent Technical Writing Job?

That depends on the job. You can probably find something with these skills. However, the more you know about writing, design, programming, and modern technologies, the better your chances of employment. Many writers slot themselves into a narrow range of skills, and sniff that they "don't do that" when asked to learn something new. That attitude is fine in prosperous times, but why put limits on yourself - especially when you're just starting?

And it can be a serious handicap in hard times.

Is there a demand for Technical Writers? If so, will there be a steady
demand for Technical Writers over the next 5 years?

There's a reasonable demand, although a lot of people are having trouble finding work just now.

As for whether there'll be a steady demand over the next five years, if any of us could predict that, we'd be much happier. A lot of industries that employ tech-writers have reached saturation level, so there may be some lean times ahead, especially for those with less experience. But who knows?

The RoboHelp Program costs about $1900. I can't afford to buy it and put it
on my home pc to practice. MS Frontpage costs about $140. The classes last
3 months.

You might learn enough during the courses, but there's nothing like practicing at home to teach yourself a program - and to give you something to show around as a sample of your work.

If you can find any legal way to raise the money, do so. If you're actively looking for work as a tech-writer, you should be able to write off the expense on your taxes. Consider buying older copies and transferring the license; the upgrade price may be more affordable. Look into academic versions of the software, too.

What are your top 10 (economical or free) sources for quality information on
Technical Writing?

Try the web site for this list: With the possible exception of the stuff that the site published by one Bruce Byfield, it has a rapidly growing collection of articles on all aspects of tech-writing, including the business end.

What are the best books available on Technical Writing?

I suggest the entire line of O'Reilly books, which covers the range of modern computing technologies. You might also want to find a book on journalism course outlines on how to interview people; it's a basic part of the job.

The Complete Idiot Guide's to Technical Writing should give you a good sense of the conventions and the business.

Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

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The green fields of Derry were just another lie,
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Technical Writer Questions: From: Steve Lefevers

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