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Many writers find it hard to make the leap from ‘creative writing’ to ‘technical’ writing, but in all actuality it isn’t that hard.
The trick is to put yourself in the shoes of the end user of the product you are writing about. How often have you, yourself, been frustrated when trying to put together a some assembly required product only to find that the directions make even less sense than the cryptic pictures? Well, that is where a good technical writer can make a world of difference and that is something to be proud of!
The skills are much the same. As a technical writer, you need to be able to connect with a quite varied target audience, just as you do as a creative writer. So, you first identify your target audience and then adjust your writing tone to accommodate them. You don’t want to be talking down to an audience, but you also don’t want to be using such elegant terms that no one will understand. Being a technical writer does not mean writing in technical terms. It is more like taking the technical aspects out of a product, making it easier for the average person to understand how it works, how to put it together, how to use it or how to perform a certain task. So, when you are writing, you try to see it through their eyes. You must realize that though the product does not hold much mystery to you, it may to someone trying to put it together or use it, and your job is to take the mystery out, replacing it with knowledge, without patronizing the end user.
You also should not compromise, just as you should deliver value. Do not think that by writing a user manual for a simple kitchen product that you don’t have to put the same effort and have the same pride in your writing as you would for a creative writing project? Is the user going to compromise if they can’t understand the directions and achieve their goals? No, they are going to take the product back to the store and replace it with something else, possibly even a competing product, if the manual is more user-friendly. A technical writer can actually make or break a product and though many manufacturer’s may not see it that way and don’t seem to think an emphasis needs to be put on the in-box directions, when the complaints start coming in they will have to rethink that attitude. By the same token, if you deliver a clear, understandable and user-friendly product in the form of directions, instructions, or a manual, the opposite will be true and that will be recognized as well. Cutting corners or otherwise compromising your high standards will not hold you in good stead with potential clients. It is actually a really small world out there and word gets around, especially if your quality is not up to snuff.
Finally, you might consider becoming certified as a technical writer. It is not a requirement as no license is necessary in order to be one, but when it comes to the competition and two people seem equally qualified, it will most likely be the person that has taken the time and money to get the certification that gets the job. Granted, there are bad writers out there that get certifications too, but each person has to start somewhere and a certification can speak volumes, especially when accompanied by sterling examples of your best work or by a recommendation from the instructor whose course you took.
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