Re: Query about a technical writing career

Subject: Re: Query about a technical writing career
From: Len Olszewski <saslpo -at- UNX -dot- SAS -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 5 Aug 1996 17:34:05 GMT

In article <960805124445_592706737 -at- emout12 -dot- mail -dot- aol -dot- com>, Philip Margolies
<MARGOLIP -at- aol -dot- com> writes:
|> Hello all!
|> Pardon my picking of your brains.

It beats somebody picking other parts of me. 8-)

|> I am planning a career in technical writing/editing, and would appreciate
|> advice on how to pursue one.


|> 1) What (additional) skills and/or coursework do I need for a successful
|> career as a technical writer? (I took the required technical writing course
|> in school, and an editing class since graduation).

If you want to be a technical writer for chemical applications, you need
to have some coursework in chemistry. If you want to write computer
software documentation, you need some coursework in computer science. If
medical technology is where you want to be, then you need some
coursework in pharmacology, anatomy, etc... And so forth.

|> 2) How can I best market myself as a technical writer?

You need a portfolio of work to show, if you don't have any experience.
That means you need to generate some text good enough to impress
prospective employers. Take on some technical writing jobs for free -
like for a local university, or some deserving startup, or a free
clinic, or a legal aid organization. Work free or cheap, save your
stuff, put it in a professional looking portfolio, and hit the bricks.

Join the STC, and attend your local chapter meetings.

I firmly believe in finding a firm you'd like to work for, and
determining through questions and persistence the sort of skill set they
like to have in their writers, then go and make sure you have those
skills. YMMV.

|> 3) Following the recent threads on Techwr-L, I have noted how diverse
|> technical writing has become. What are the key areas in the field at
|> present, and in the near future? Also, where do technical writers see the
|> field going?

Writing for online non-linear presentation, online document architecture
and design, writing as a contractor, and writing with an end-user in
mind (so-called "user-centered design") are all hot trends. The field
isn't going anywhere, except its scope is expanding as more and more
traditional products become more technically sophisticated either in
their nature, or in the processes used to produce them, thus broadening
the demand for competent technical communicators.

|> 4) Are there any areas of technical writing I should be especially
|> interested in, or conversely, especially avoid?

No; you should look around and see what you like. A lot of people forget
that illustration and design are parts of the compleat technical
communicator. Don't forget about these in addition to writing. Human
factors (the discipline) is also an important thing with which to be a
little familiar.

You shouldn't be picky in the early stages of your career. You can
always segue later on with the benefit of experience. Horrible jobs are
common early in your career. If you are lucky and learn from those
situations, your later career becomes much easier. Just be persistent,
and maintain and open mind and good attitude. Don't be afraid to make
mistakes, but don't make the same mistake twice.

Good luck, son.
Len Olszewski My opinions; you go get your own.
saslpo -at- unx -dot- sas -dot- com

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