Advice to a new Technical Writer

Advice to a new Technical Writer.

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Advice to a new Technical Writer

My name is Madison and I am a junior creative writing major at Miami University. I am trying to figure out what direction I want to go in after I graduate and one of the careers I am exploring is technical writing. If you have the time, would you be able to give me any information on your career and how you got there? I would also appreciate any information on what this job entails on a day to day basis. If there is anything else that I may not have thought to ask that you think is important to know, please tell me. I would really appreciate the advice.
Thanks for your time,
Madison

Madison,
What a great question! Thank you for contacting me.
I have been a technical writer for over 25 years.
I was an Interdisciplinary Studies Major (Western College Program). I combined my love for writing (journalism and creative writing) with an interest in computer science. I’m a 2nd generation IT brat. My dad was a programmer before they were called programmers.

Western’s core curriculum program helped me create a program where could do coursework in technical, creative, and journalism writing, along with computer science courses. I also had some excellent mentoring from the professors in the English department, specifically Dr. Jean Lutz. I would encourage you to seek her out before the semester is over. Find her and tell her I sent you. She’s was an incredible mentor to me.

A technical writer’s job has many facets:

Solid writing skills are very important and are the core skills you need.

The ability to quickly learn new technology.
Documentation tools change quickly. What’s hot today is obsolete in a year or less. Fundamentally, learning the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.) and the Adobe Creative Suite (Framemaker, Acrobat, etc.) as well as HTML/XML, WordPress, or Madcap Flare would be valuable.

Public Speaking: You may have to give presentations on product features and benefits to both technical personnel as well as customers.

Flexibility: Ability to multi-task and adjust priorities

Organizational and Planning skills: You have to manage your own priorities and get help from your team and manager as well.

Attention to detail: You may be the only writer on a team and not have the luxury of an editor. Get used to peer reviews and technical reviews by programmers.

Cooperation and Teambuilding – very important in working on development projects.

Networking: get to know both writers and tech people in the area. Don’t just hang out with fellow writers. Find out where the techies hang out and get to know them. They can help you.

Resources:
To get insight into the latest trends in technical communication, read/follow these blogs:

Tom Johnson – I’d Rather Be Writing – http://idratherbewriting.com/
Bill Swallow – Techcommdood – http://techcommdood.com/category/techcommdood/

Professional Development – Society for Technical Communication – http://www.stc.org
I would also seek out some Technical Writing groups on LinkedIn and ask similar questions.

I hope this helps give you some insight. Please keep in touch.

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Mastermind groups offer support and accountability for business owners

When you venture out into your own business, often you leave behind the support of staff status meetings, advisory groups, and boards of directors. But you do not have to go it alone. Seek out a Mastermind group.

What excites me about participating in a Mastermind group is the opportunity to participate in the success of others. It also gives me a venue to share my opportunities and challenges with developing my business.

Masterminds take many forms.  They can be focused and selective, or open and flexible. I attend a Mastermind hosted by Rippling Effect (www.ripplingeffect.com). Participants commit one hour of their life a week in person – for you. And you do the same for them.

Active participation makes the group worthwhile and successful.  A diverse group of professionals attend on a regular basis, all there committed to helping each other achieve success. The one I attend has among its participants at least two centuries of collective business experience at all levels and types of businesses, including:

  • Executive leadership and business coaches
  • Wellness practitioners – massage therapists, holistic health coaches, yoga instructors, nutritionists
  • Franchise owners
  • Social media trainers and strategists
  • Website developers
  • Writers
  • IT consultants
  • Financial and  Insurance planners
  • Attorneys
  • Custom furniture designers
  • Multi-level marketers
  • Residual Income trainers and developers
  • Chamber of commerce directors

Masterminds can meet anywhere that can host a small group of 10-12 for about an hour or however long the group facilitator wants to hold the meeting.  Local cafes and coffee shops are popular places to meet, since you can support a fellow small business owner while meeting.

Mastermind groups do not push referrals. There are other organizations for that. Referrals may be a by-product of participating in this group; it is not the primary objective.

If you do not currently belong to one, find one or start one yourself. Start with meetup.com or LinkedIn and go from there.

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Free wi-fi isn’t free

Respect is essential for maintaining a professional attitude with your clients and partners. It is also important to show respect to the places where you conduct business.

I like meeting clients in local coffee shops.  The aroma of freshly-roasted coffee beans and hot pastries fresh out of the oven presents a comfortable feel to the meeting. Most places offer free wireless internet service as a perk for their patrons. However, they still pay for their internet service as part of the cost of doing business.

I have walked into places and have been appalled to see someone working away on their laptop without a beverage or snack nearby. When you are there and you are using their “free” wireless service, just buy something – coffee, tea, a pastry.

Conduct your business in a timely manner. Some places may limit access 30 minutes or 1 hour, depending on the time of day.

Schedule your meeting time other than during a café’s peak hours (7-9 a.m., 11 a.m. -1 p.m.) There will be more space and less noise for you to conduct your meeting.

Find a favorite coffee shop to patronize. Baristas know people. If you’re a familiar face, that connection could lead the way to your next client.

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Adventures in naming a business

To give something a name gives it power and meaning. This is also true with company names.

Is how I identify myself any different than the name of a business? Maybe.
To explain what I do is probably easier. I write. A lot. I’ve been writing since I was 9 – short stories, articles, presentations, comic book fiction, procedures, training, and technical documentation.

I have often said I got paid to write fiction when I’m doing technical writing, because once the product was on the shelf, it was obsolete.

Weeding out names is easy thanks to web search engines. If your Google-fu is strong, you can hopefully find a cool name that no one else has used yet. I suggest trying different combinations of the name just in case it’s closely associated with a product or service that is something else entirely.

I spent the morning on this great adventure in naming.

My Own Name

Now, I suppose I could have gone with my “brand” as Beatty Consulting, LLC. That ties my given name to what I do. Not terribly exciting but it’s easy. However, it’s already taken. Google search reveals a lot about Warren Beatty. More than I want to know. Moving along.

Tech

Anything with “tech” in the name, forget it. The web is saturated with tech. blah blah blah.

Writing /writer

Everyone writes in some form. Some actually get paid to do it correctly.

Latin

My personal motto is Fides, Pertinacia et Ignis (faith determination and fire). Now, this might work; however, non-Latin pronunciation could be confusing. This is all about brand recognition after all.
Fides (fee-des) though some might pronounce it fydes with long I (hard to pronounce)
Pertinacia – bit confusing and does not roll easily off the tongue, unless you speak Latin.
Ignis is a possibility, but it’s also a WoW character. Although, potential clients might be gamers and would have appreciated the humor.

Similar companies exist with Ignis in their name, and they are either consulting or software development companies. Too close for comfort.

Colors

Green is popular these days, all eco-friendly and all that. Not my favorite color.

Red. Red Pen – lots of combinations associated with red pens and writers.

Teal is my favorite color, but doesn’t evoke a lot of imagery for my name. It could be a cool logo color though.

Mythology

The Phoenix is popular imagery associated with of rising from the ashes into a new business. My Dad’s old consulting name was Phoenix Associates. I know a local business consultant who is using phoenix in her name, so moving on.

Dragons are popular and powerful creatures. I like them personally, as my Chinese horoscope is a Wood Dragon. Maybe it will be part of my logo.

What Else?

So I continued my search. Well, what else? I like to cook too, so looked around for writing and food. I could do food writing I suppose, but it’s not my core business. There are lots of references to “will write for food.” I kept going.

The Big Idea

I took a break and sat for a while. Words, words, words all around. Bookshelves full of words.

Wise Words Consulting bubbles out of my subconscious. Searching Google and the Ohio Secretary of State sites shows it’s not taken! Hurray! It felt good when I said it a couple dozen times. I bounced it off my dad and a few friends. The name seems to resonate, so here it is – taa daaa!!!

Wise Words Consulting, LLC

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