Technical Writing - He Who Matters Most

He wakes up in the morning and starts a pot of coffee. He then steps outside to grab the newspaper. He scans the headlines briefly, grabs his coffee and gets ready for work. Between showers and shaves he gets his kids ready. All the time with one eye on the clock. He can't be late to work. His shift starts at 9 am sharp.

Traffic's a snarl. Everyone's in a hurry. Somehow he manages to get to work at 8:55 am. He runs to the morning meeting and makes it at 8:59. He grabs a chair and opens a 500 page manual of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane. Wiping sweat of his forehead, he breathes a sigh of relief. He turns to page 167.

Today, his team will change the engine oil of the airplane. He starts reading the procedure. A procedure written by you. The moment of truth for a technical writer is when your target audience starts reading your procedure. If the procedure is easy to follow, then you've passed. If the procedure confuses the target audience, then you've failed.

So the most important person for you when writing your procedures is your target audience. Your target audience is the average Joe with average intelligence. Even if you're writing something for engineers and programmers, keep things simple. We all have a lot of things going on in our lives. A poorly written, difficult procedure is the last thing that anyone needs. As technical writers, it's easy to forget about our target audience when we're sitting in our comfortable office cubes. You write a procedure that you think is easy to follow.

But it's a different world out there. A world where your procedure could be the difference between success and failure. In today's example, I described a technician who works on a 787 Boeing airplane. But let's say you're an oil and gas technical writer, and you write a procedure on how to change a drill bit on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. There's a hurricane approaching and the drill bit has to be changed quickly. There's a lot of pressure and tension. A simple, well written procedure will make things go smoothly. Before writing any procedure, it's a good idea to create a profile of your target audience. Ask people questions.

The more information you can get, the better your procedure will be. The easiest way to get this information is to talk directly to your target audience. By doing this you'll also get a feel of the environment in which your procedure will be used. So remember this golden rule of technical writing: the person who matters most is not your boss or the Subject Matter Expert. It's your end user. Keep this in mind when you write anything as a technical writer.

Technical Writing - When Less is More

One question that creeps up into the minds of technical writers is "Do I need to know graphic design to be a successful technical writer?" The short answer is no. Your job is pure technical writing and that's what you should focus on. But a little bit of layout knowledge will help you in your technical writing career. This is one of those instances when a little bit of knowledge is worth more to you in the long run.

If you're working as a technical writer for a major corporation then chances are that there will be a designer on staff. You will be focused on technical writing. When you're done with your part you will hand off your work to the designer who will do the graphic designing.

But if you're working for a small company or are a freelancer then basic graphic design knowledge is a plus. If you're working for a small company then you could be performing multiple roles. For example you could be writing the manual for the company's product line. When you take the completed manual to your manager, he tells you to insert company logos, photographs and illustrations.

You go back and do as you're told. This is very common in small companies.

Now you could have told your manager that inserting company logos and illustrations is not your area of expertise and you don't have the skills to do it. Nothing wrong with telling your manager the truth. But if you do possess basic layout skills and are willing to do the extra work, that's an added benefit you provide. And in the eyes of your manager you just increased your value to the organization.

The same applies if you're a freelancer. If you can provide your client a complete package including technical writing and some basic layout design, you can charge more for your services. You should let the client know up front that you can provide this extra service. From the client's perspective, he or she does not have to worry about finding a graphic designer. You provide him or her with one stop shopping.

Of course, this all depends on how simple or complex the project is. If it involves developing high detail graphics with special software then you need a graphic designer. As technical writers, we don't have the expertise for high end design work.

How much of graphic design should you know?

You need to know some of the basics like how much white space you should use, basic formatting options, and complementary color theory. You could get a book and learn the basics. If you have some basic knowledge of software applications like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator that's even better. But these are not necessary.

Don't shift your focus from technical writing. Focus on your strengths. If you have some spare time, then, and only then, should you consider learning some basic layout design. If not, don't worry about it. Over time you will automatically develop an instinct for good design.

Is Professional Technical Writing a Good Career Choice

If you are considering a career in technical writing, chances are you have heard it is a great way for English or Journalism majors to earn a solid paycheck. The field does indeed offer great pay compared to many entry-level jobs available to liberal arts majors. Also, a professional technical communications career can provide a path to other lucrative fields. Writing manuals develops your communication and project management skills; both of which are essential to most professional careers.

Year after year, the salary surveys provided by organizations such as the Society for Technical Communication show strong earnings potential for writers who work in technical fields. These writers spend their days writing training manuals, user guides, user assistance topics, procedures, and other related materials. At times the technical subject matter can be demanding, and writers with strong computer skills or knowledge of engineering or science will have an advantage. However, many technical writers find success by combining strong writing skills with the ability to interview subject matter experts and gather the technical details from others.

While the technical writing field grew during the dot-com era and declined a bit after the technology market slumped, the future of the field looks bright. More and more technology is finding its way into the hands of consumers. Each gadget, software product, etc. requires instructions that teach consumers how to use the product. Also, technology is becoming more advanced, and products that were once simple now require detailed instructions for users to implement them successfully.

A liberal arts major with strong writing skills should definitely consider the technical writing field. Writers can later leverage their skills to move into product management, marketing, programming, and other careers.

If you are interested in technical writing, attend some of the Society for Technical Communications meetings to get a feel for what technical writers do. Talk to as many writers as you can; you will likely find them very friendly and helpful. Also, contact the English department at your local university and ask if they have technical writing courses. The instructors for these courses can offer a lot of information and provide valuable contacts that could help land your first job.

Whether you enjoy writing, editing, science, or computers, chances are you will find a professional technical writing career fulfilling. If you can find a job at a company that keeps pace with the changing technical marketplace, you will learn and grow through the many projects you take on. This growth and change will keep you from getting bored and offer you the opportunity to complete some impressive projects. Over time, you should find your salary and your resume growing sufficiently to please both you and your employers.

So, what are you waiting for? Start looking into technical writing today. You will not likely be disappointed.

Technical Writing Courses

The explosion of technology and the pace at which businesses, industries, and even average consumers are adopting it has fostered the development of technical writing courses. There has never before been a time when so many people were using intricate technology that they do not understand. Writers are needed who can explain how things function and how they are used - people with excellent writing skills and a gift for communicating complex ideas to others. If you enjoy writing and you are good at explaining things to people with less knowledge than you, you will probably make an excellent technical writer.

Technical writing training often focuses on writing specifications and user manuals for computer software; however, this is just one aspect of the profession. Technical writers also write manuals for household technology - kitchen appliances, laundry appliances, vacuum systems - or construction equipment, vehicle user manuals, medical device manuals, detailed procedures for medical tests, or any of the other technical products and procedures so prevalent in our lives. Think about which of these areas interests you the most and when you are evaluating technical writing courses, look for the ones that will cover the subjects you want to pursue.

Most of us have had experiences with user manuals that either don't give us the information we're looking for, or don't clearly explain some process or procedure that we need to understand. Most of us have shaken our heads over material that is poorly organized, poorly written, or poorly translated from another language. This is why there is a growing need for graduates of technical writing courses who can produce good documentation. If you are already a good communicator, technical writing training will give you the polish you need to turn you into an excellent communicator.

There are some good technical writing courses available online; indeed, the personal computer is unsurpassed as a writing tool and the internet supplies the communication abilities that make online education an excellent venue for this type of learning. The best technical writing training is offered by universities with accredited online programs. Successful students earn university degrees in technical writing that will give them a great base for a successful career.

Technical writers in the United States earn between 33,000 and 88,000 annually: graduates of technical writing courses tend to earn slightly more in some of the northeastern states and in California and Hawaii. Technical writing training also puts you at the front of the line for the best jobs, ahead of candidates who have not specialized in this form of written communication. If you think you'd like to pursue a career in technical writing, it's worth investigating the education options and requesting information from schools that offer this type of program.

Salary stats were taken from America's Career InfoNet.

Technical Writing - Earn Big Bucks

Technical writers are earning big bucks while enjoying the luxury of working at home. If you're put off by the word 'technical', don't slam the door to a lucrative opportunity. As long as you can string your grammar correctly, you can start a new writing adventure.

What is Technical Writing?

When you buy technical gizmo, you always have to read the manual that explains how to operate or set-up a system. It is specifically written for end-users so they can understand how the details work together. If you can't make heads or tails of the instructional manual, then you're reading poorly written or highly technical stuff. Technical writers come to the rescue, inspired by a bottomless pit of vocabulary suited to the material.

The word 'technical' does not always refer to technology; rather, it refers to a skill. This type of writing is putting together information in a logical and coherent discussion. The aim is to inform, not amuse. Instead, you have to observe processes and operations to be able to provide accurate information. You have to show how it is done.

Engineering, surveying, medical, architectural, and software firms require technical writing experts to help them explain away their products. What used to be the domain of technical geeks is now the realm of writers who can fuse creativity and technology into one dynamic package. And the pay is way beyond the ordinary paycheck you get every payday.

How to create a niche in this elite circle? Well, for starters, you have to love gizmos. If you're not a techno fan, you still have hope by learning the basics. If you want to write about software or computers, you can sign up at the nearest computer school and learn the basics about software and computers. Technical writing has its own vocabulary and there is no excuse for sloppy writing if you want to earn a fat paycheck.

Tools of the Trade

Before hopping into an assignment, make sure you have the tools of the trade. Get a copy of 'Strunk and White Elements of Style' to help make your writing crisp, clear, and tight. The usual jargon cannot be used. Instead, get to know the technical jargon involved in different requirements. Brush up on your active voice to make the manual easier to understand.

You may be working with a graphic artist, or if you know how to do it, the better for you. You can rely on software to help you with your technical writing when working for a small company.

If you want to get into technical writing, you have to be a keen observer to explain logical problems. It takes awhile before you can finish your paper because you will have to be repeating the processes to have more angles in explaining things to the reader.

Technical writing courses are available online. With a certification to back your qualification, companies will be willing to hire you. You can always request to do your work online, miles away from the company, if they can send over the gadget you will write about. But for sensitive projects, you have to go to the site.

Technical writing is the new wave of writing. More writers are seeing the glimmer at the end of the tunnel and hopes are high that writing skills can pay far better than the 8 hours you put in as an employee. Interested?