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 What’s hot today is obsolete in a year or less.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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