Re: Getting into technical writng

Subject: Re: Getting into technical writng
From: jewahe -at- comcast -dot- net (Jeff Hanvey)
To: Joe Pisko <joep95 -at- comcast -dot- net>, techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2006 20:11:08 +0000

Yes, you're right...this question has hit the list quite often, but that's okay...we need replacements periodically...

And yes, technical writing can be difficult to break into. The main reason is that there are few jobs and a lot of people wanting them. Also, many companies have been burned by English Literature majors thinking they can write technically, or graphic designers thinking they can write technically, or programmers thinking they can write at all...I think you get the picture...

My usual suggestions to people looking to break into the field:

1. Do a little audience analysis. Look at the job ads in the area where you want to work and determine what types of jobs are being offered there. Then start developing the skills that they are asking for in those ads.

2. Make contacts with other technical writers in your area. The best way to do this is to attend the STC meetings of your area's chapter ( In many areas, you don't have to be a member to attend the meetings, although you should check ahead of time. If you are interested in a particular sector for employee, look for professional organizations related to that sector (for example, for engineering and mechnical writing, check out IEEE). One of the biggest mistakes that most new tech writers make is thinking that being able to write is enough...It's have to have demonstratable technical skills, as well. Just getting an A+ certification puts you ahead of the game.

3. Don't wait to start your portfolio. If you're currently working, find things around the office that you can document. If you're not, you might be able to volunteer with a charity group, church, or other non-profit organization and write for them. If nothing else, look for things around the house that you can document. I'd also suggest checking with the school to see if internship positions are available.

4. While you're developing your portfolio, try to learn a variety of software packages. In particular, learn to use MS Word (paying particular attention to creating and applying styles and templates, as well as to control autonumbering and autobulleting, TOC, and indexes), Adobe FrameMaker (including the paragraph/characters tags, built-in variables, autonumbering, book feature, indexing, and TOC features), and RoboHelp (generating the various help systems). You should probably also learn MS Excel, a couple of HTML editors (Frontpage and DreamWeaver), and Open Office, as well as have a firm basis in capturing and manipulating screenshots (although you don't have to be an advance image editor). I once had a professor who talked about "click time", which is simply time spent working on a computer. The more time you spend playing around with software, the more confident you'll be about what you're doing.

5. Don't be afraid to ask questions or to be persistent. That's true whether you're working with a recruiter trying to get a job, or working with an Subject Matter Expert after landing one


Jeff Hanvey
Thomson, GA
jewahe -at- comcast -dot- net

-------------- Original message ----------------------
From: Joe Pisko <joep95 -at- comcast -dot- net>
> Hello,
> I assume that this question has hit this email list some number of
> times, I apologize for the repetition. I have a degree in English and I
> am something of a computer geek. I am looking to get into technical
> writing. I am working on getting a certificate in technical writing (it
> will look good to the morons that seem to staff HR departments.) I am
> also looking to develop professionally by reading books on XML (I am
> already HTML literate) and computer programming etc? While all of that
> is swell and all, breaking into the field is reportedly difficult. Any
> advice for a newbie? I have read quite a bit about the field and it
> sounds perfect for me. Aside from having good communication skills and
> liking technical subject matter, I like to continually learn new things.
> All of this seems fine but that first job has not as of yet surfaced.
> Thanks for any advice.

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