Becoming a Technical Writer: Look Before You Leap

 One of the reasons for becoming a technical writer is because you like writing and, of course, you are good at it. Unfortunately, many people come into this field, not because they are interested in technology or in writing, but because:

  • They hear it pays reasonable well.
  • They have heard about the demand for this special breed of people.
  • They are ready to take up any job. When they don’t get their dream job, they are ready to take up anything—they just want to settle in for any job for the time being.
  • They probably want to work for a year or two before going for higher studies.

There are many others who feel that they are doing a favor to the employers by agreeing to become a technical writer. Their attitude is, “I don’t mind becoming a technical writer if I am given Rs. XYZ per annum.” These are not the reasons to become a technical writer. First and foremost try to identify if this is the right profession for you. Money is important, but in this field, interest in the job and writing abilities are extremely crucial.

This can make or break your career. Darwin’s Theory of the survival of the fittest applies to this scenario as well. Among all the others, only the good writers, with genuine interest in the field will survive and progress further. The others will get stagnated, bored, and will be disillusioned by their choice! Having said this, I would also like to add that not many of the existing writers have come into this profession out of choice.

I personally know some writers who wanted to make a career in software development or testing. They did not get an appropriate opportunity and hence, they joined as technical writers, have discovered what it is, and have decided that they are content and happy with their profession. But this is a very rare situation and depends on the personal attitude and the basic interest (like reading and writing) of the person. So before you make a rushed decision, sit back and think.

Interview Yourself

“If your goal is to write a novel, this is not the job. Although the finished product of your job is something you wrote, there’s a lot of collaboration. You’re interviewing people. You are coordinating. Twenty to thirty percent of your time is real writing activity.”

—Saul Carliner, a former president of the STC

Take a couple of minutes to answer the following questions truthfully:

    • Do you have to restrain yourself from being a friendly editor to a colleague?
    • Did you, as a child (and still), have a special fascination for words and word
      games like crossword and/or scrabble?
    • Do you constantly find the slightest error in spelling or grammar when you read magazines, newspapers, or any article?
    • Are you a voracious reader?
    • Do you discuss books with friends?
    •  Do you like to write—about anything and about everything?
    • Do you read a manual (or some instruction) and often think how it could be improved?

If you have answered yes to all these questions (even to half of them) without a second thought, you are already well on the path to becoming a technical writer, you just need a little push in that direction.

Analyze Yourself

You should always choose a profession that you enjoy doing and which gives you satisfaction in-terms of work, responsibility, and rewards. Before you start your job search, take some time to check your skills and area of interest. Then, determine what skills you need to acquire in order to be where you want to be. Let’s consider a few cases:

  • Case 1: A person who has a good command over the language (English). The person has absolutely no ability to understand the technology and present it in an organized manner.

This person would make a poor technical writer. But, if the writer puts in some effort in improving the organization skills and in understanding the technology, the person can become a reasonably good technical writer.

  • Case2: A person who has the ability to grasp and understand the technology (with or without technical background), but has extremely poor language skills.

This person cannot become a technical writer.

  • Case 3: A person without any technical background, but with the ability to quickly grasp the information, and good command over the language.

This person can become an excellent technical writer.

  • Case 4: A person having the ability to grasp the technical information and a good command over the language. But the person has no logical thinking capacity or clarity of thought.

This person can become a good writer after some refined training.

Check in which category you fall into. If you have a good command over the language, are an organized worker, have an inclination towards technology, and can make people talk to you, this is the job for you. You should have a cocktail of the right skills to become a successful technical writer.

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