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A Technical Writing career can be quite lucrative, but in today’s economy it is important to not only have the skills, but be willing to take a lesser salary in order to get your foot in the door and to improve your chances of having a long term career. The job seekers that are willing to be a little financially flexible, along with possessing exceptional skills, will be the ones who can count themselves in the ranks of the employed and will be that much ahead of the game when the economy turns itself around, as it must and always has.
The financial aspect will depend largely upon the area that you live in and the number of technical writers looking for jobs in that area. You may have to take your cues from potential employers and from others who are similarly qualified and looking for work.
When it comes to skill, aptitude and training though, you are in control. When looking for work, your resume should reflect everything that is expected of and required of a technical writer:
So, what does a Technical Writer actually do?
According to set standards, some of which are always in place and some of which will be specified according to the clients’ wishes or the contract, you will organize materials and complete requested writing assignments.
You may be required to edit, make changes to or standardize someone else’s material.
You may be required to maintain the files and records of all of your work and the subsequent revisions.
You may be required to review already published materials and make recommendations for changes in content, the scope, and format or even in the methods of reproduction and dissemination.
You may have to liaise with vendors, publishers, customer representatives or company executives in order to develop material for publication, including setting technical standards.
You may have to conduct interviews of production personnel, read notes and journals and study other resources in order to become familiar with the production methods and the technologies utilized.
You may be required to select diagrams, charts, photographs and drawings for illustrative purposes or you may be required to draw or assemble the same.
You may need to analyze previous documents and study the current technical aspects in order to determine if revisions to the existing material are necessary.
You may be required to arrange for preparation, duplication and dissemination of the material, as well as actually assisting in the layout of the material for publication.
If you have all of the above skills, which can actually be gleaned from any number of other jobs you’ve held and if writing is something you excel at, then read further. On the other hand, if you have done nothing similar to the above and especially if you struggle to put sentences down on paper or on a computer screen, then you might want to consider another career path.
When it comes to the knowledge requirements for being a Technical Writer, it depends upon what area you will be working within, except for one thing: You must have an excellent knowledge of the content and the structure of the English language (or the language that you will be working in) to include the spelling and meaning of words, grammar and the rules of composition. This is not something you can fake your way through. If you are from a foreign country and English is your second language, there are many ‘tells’ that can be obvious in the written form. You must be fluent. I’m not saying that you cannot do this if your are ‘foreign born’; I’m only saying that you should be honest with yourself when looking at your skill and the quality of your work when it comes to the English language, or any other language.
Other knowledge requirements may include a knowledge of computers and electronics, toys, education and training, or communications and the media. Technical Writers write on technical issues, sometimes for technical professionals and at other times for the ‘end user’ that may not be technically savvy in any way, shape or form. You need to be knowledgeable enough to interpret the specifications you are given and to write them in the specified format required. A lot of this knowledge can also come from past jobs or experiences. For example, a mom may be able to write quite well on the applications of or assets of specific toys and how to put them together.
The skill requirements are a little less stringent, coming mostly from experience. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Technical Writing experience; work experience from many sources can accumulate a vast skills base. When it comes to Technical Writing, the more you can demonstrate the following skills, the better your chances of employment within this career field:
Writing — this goes without saying
Reading Comprehension — this is also a “no-brainer”.
Critical Thinking — this is using logic and reasoning to be able to differentiate between alternative solutions, approaches and conclusions.
Decision Making and Sound Judgment-this is one thing that is useful in any job that has required you to work unsupervised.
Active Learning and Listening — this means you are able to understand and implement available new information and to give your full attention to other people, not interrupting at inappropriate times and being able to understand the critical points, asking questions when necessary. Quite a bit of this will be obvious in the interview process, especially the listening part.
Be aware of your own listening skills — an adjustment may be necessary.
Communication Skills — this is a critical element. You must be able to effectively communicate very complex and even the simplest ideas and processes to every level of intelligence.
Time Management — Especially in today’s economy, you must be able to manage your time effectively and if you are in a supervisory position, to manage others’ time as well.
Abilities, to some, may be included in the Skills category and are more often than not a skill already present within you. In some of these cases, you either have ‘it’ or you don’t:
Speech Clarity — this goes without saying. Others must be able to understand you, be it over a phone line or face-to-face.
Written Comprehension and Expression — you must not only be able to write, but must be able to understand what you read, regardless of how simple, technical or complex.
Near Vision — this is something that can be corrected if you don’t possess it. If you are accepting a job that you know requires consistent perusal of small print or diagrams, just swallow your pride and get those eyes checked. Many are completely surprised with how bad their eyes are until such time as they have new lenses in front of them.
Deductive Reasoning — this is the ability to produce answers that make sense when applying general rules to specific problems.
Oral Comprehension and Expression — this is the ability to not only listen and comprehend what you are hearing, but to express yourself well when conveying ideas, relating technical requirements and/or explaining complex processes.
Originality — counts big time! In order to stand out from the ‘run-of-the-mill’ technical writer, you must be able to devise unusual or clever ideas about any given situation or subject and be able to develop creative ways to solve a problem, if one occurs.
Now, you’ve been given a lot to think about. Go through your resume. Think about the jobs that you’ve held prior to this point and be able to address any of the above topics in an interview. There is also every chance that you will not just go through one interview, but through an interview process that may move you up the food chain. You may be interviewing with someone else while someone you have already interviewed with sits in. It is important that you not just ‘memorize’ specific answers to specific questions, but become completely comfortable with ‘tooting your own horn’ and with what jobs or experiences have provided you with particular skills, aptitude or abilities. Going in armed with confidence is often the key to landing the job you want.
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