First let me start by giving a heartfelt THANK YOU to the men and women who have served or currently do serve in the armed forces. While Veteran’s Day is an American holiday, I applaud and respect the dedication it takes for anyone to serve their country in such a sacrificial way. I recognize that my freedom comes at great cost, and I’m humbly and eternally grateful for your sacrifice.
One of the freedoms we cherish in America is the ability to choose our own career paths—even if our desired career is difficult or impractical or monetarily unfruitful. (How’s that for a nice way to say MAKES YOU POOR?) Writing is a tough business in a lot of ways. It’s particularly hard to make as much money as we’d like (especially in the early years), which is why so many of us have day jobs. I know most of us wish we could have a job within the writing field, since we’d like to earn money doing what we love, so when Brenda Di Bella contacted us with a potential post about technical writing, I jumped at the chance.
Back in college, I took a summer temp position at Harcourt-Brace, where I did some technical writing. I loved the writing aspect of that job. It’s a great option for writers of all stripes, so if you’re looking for a full-time opportunity or simply a way to supplement your income, check out what Bella has to say about this career option for writers…
Why Technical Writing?
Technical writing can be an excellent source of income for all writers. There are thousands of opportunities out there for individuals with writing skills, and many of them are remote projects that can be done from home. You don’t have to be a technical expert to earn extra income in this lucrative and flexible field. In fact, because most “uber-techie” types are notoriously atrocious writers, the demand for skilled communicators is very high and continues to grow as technology evolves.
While many people (like myself) have chosen tech writing as a full-time career, many projects are available on a contract basis, making them temporary commitments with a lot of flexibility. Currently, the average hourly rate for technical writers in the U.S. is $31. This rate varies based on skill level, location, industry, and other factors.
What is it?
Technical writers are responsible for converting complicated technical and scientific information into language that is easy to understand. They usually work in conjunction with computer programmers, engineers, medical professionals, or other specialized experts. Just about every industry imaginable has the need for technical writers at some point in time. While an exhaustive list of the types of projects available would be far too lengthy for this blog, some common projects include:
• user guides, manuals, online help, and training materials
• design and marketing specifications
• research articles and reports
• policy and procedure documents
What Qualifications or Skills are Necessary?
Along with grammar skills, a successful technical writer must have a knack for clarity. The ability to consider the technical savvy of your audience is essential for this type of work. For example, when writing a user guide for a new software application, it is important to include every step necessary to perform a task. Likewise, policy and procedure manuals must be worded very carefully to avoid possible issues for the employer.
Some computer proficiency is necessary for most tech writing projects. The most commonly used applications for this type of work are Microsoft Word, FrameMaker, RoboHelp, and XML. In some cases, research and training skills may be required.
The qualifications necessary to acquire tech writing projects vary, but most clients prefer candidates with some education in English (or a similar field of study) and some writing experience. It is a good idea to develop a portfolio of writing samples to show off your abilities. Some resources for strengthening your skill set and learning about trends in the field are:
• The Society for Technical Communication (STC) – be sure to check out their webinars!
• The National Association of Science Writers
• The National Writers’ Association
• The National Writers’ Union
Where Do I Find More Info?
Thousands of tech writing opportunities can be found every day on all the popular employment websites (Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed, etc.). In addition to these, be sure to check out Dice.com (which specializes in tech jobs), the STC website, and the job placement department of your alma mater. I mention these resources in particular because I have had personal success with each of them. There are also a plethora of sites specifically dedicated to tech writing jobs. These might very well be viable resources for opportunities, but be cautious about any which require you to pay for their services, and don’t expect to be flooded with offers. Finally, many companies do not use employment sites to post job openings, but a quick visit to their corporate website can tell you if they are looking for someone like you.
Brenda Di Bella is a Senior Technical Writer with 20 years’ experience. She has a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing from Purdue University, and has successfully completed projects for dozens of Fortune 500 companies like Bank of America, Eli Lilly and Company, Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and Bally Total Fitness. She is currently self-employed, offering a variety of writing and editing services. For more information about Brenda, please visit her website.