Specializing in Freelance Technical Writing

Freelance technical writing is definitely a gold mine in terms of excellent income, especially since the demand is sky high and there are very few writers to do the work. If you are looking for a suitable niche for you to focus on, then technical writing could be for you. There are many other freelance writing opportunities available today and you need to consider many aspects before specializing in freelance technical writing. You should scrutinize the myriad freelance writing opportunities to be sure you know your options. Even if you are a good writer, that doesn't mean you'll be good at technical writing. As a general guideline, you should get into freelance technical writing only if you completely understand what you can expect from your projects.

The first step is to analyze your writing style, personality traits and abilities in all honesty. If you are a creative person, you will have a very difficult time trying to write technical material. Technical writing is scientific, accurate and fact-based, with no space for opinions or flowery writing. If you take up freelance technical writing, be prepared to write lots of factual material. Technical writing projects are often in relation to user manuals, installation guides, policies and procedures, requirements documentation, reports, white papers, reference documents, contracts, business proposals etc.

While other freelance writing opportunities present lots of creative freedom, technical writing will always be technical. You will spend 70% of your time on research. Hunting for data in lengthy reports, interviewing people from the relevant technical communities and spending hours accessing databases in search of information are all part of a technical writer's job. You might even have to do a lot of leg work, which will depend on the particular assignment. You have to be clear and 100% certain of your sources. Freelance technical writing can be very laborious, and if you are not willing to go the extra mile, you shouldn't work on such projects.

Freelance technical writing is a field for those who love a mental challenge. Technical writers are found in industries such as IT, chemistry, healthcare, engineering, consumer electronics, finance, biotechnology, robotics and aerospace. If you're a person blessed with both a tech-savvy character and a flair for writing, you should definitely specialize in freelance technical writing.

Learn Technical Writing - The Case For Technical Writing

"Why should I hire a technical writer? How can a technical writer benefit my business?"

Knowing the answer to these questions is crucial to develop your technical writing career. If you can show your client or employer that hiring you will have a positive impact on the business, then you will multiply your chances of success.

How can a technical writer affect a company's bottom line? Let's take a look.

1. Satisfied customers bring in more sales

The product documents you create such as user guides and manuals are part of the product. They should be detail oriented and easy to understand. User guides and manuals should make life easier for the customer.

A well-written user manual explains all the product benefits the customer can enjoy, which results in a satisfied customer. Satisfied customers lead to repeat business, referrals, and more sales.

Conversely, poorly written user guides can frustrate and confuse the customer resulting in a waste of his time. He is unlikely to buy from you in the future and will pass on this information to his family, friends, and business associates.

2. Business documents bring in contracts and projects

Well written RFPs, RFQs, and proposals can lead to new contracts, projects, and sales. As a technical writer, your job is to take costs, schedules, budgets, timelines, and scopes and create winning business documents. But what you can also do is include the benefits the reader of these documents will enjoy. This will increase the success chances of business documents.

3. Automate the customer support process

By creating customer support documents that are thorough and easy to understand, you will reduce the number of calls to the customer or tech support department. Because your documents do such a good job of explaining the process or steps to the customer, the chances of her needing any extra support are reduced.

This can result in significant cost and time savings for the client.

4. Time savings via standardization

By creating standard processes, templates, style guides and document libraries, you are saving your client time. These processes and templates can be used for future projects reducing future development time. Plus, standardization improves the business image because of the consistent use of style, language, and other communication elements.

5. Improve business efficiency and productivity

The documents you create are concise and clear. They remove confusion and create transparency. Both internal and external communication is improved. As a result, the business functions smoothly with increased productivity.

Every business must do two things consistently to thrive: boost sales and manage costs. As a technical writer, you can contribute to both these factors.

Keep the above five things in mind when looking for your next technical writing job or project. Use them when talking to prospective employers and clients. Not only will you increase your value as a technical writer, but you will also increase your chances of success.

Technical Writing - The Importance of User Feedback

It's happened to most of us. It's frustrating, time consuming, and creates a very poor impression. I'm referring to poorly written instructions. These instructions could be about anything such as assembling furniture, operating equipment, or learning software. How many times have we been confused and frustrated by product assembly instructions or user manuals in our daily lives?

One of your goals as a technical writer is to create documents that help the end user accomplish a task. And one technique you should use to improve the usability of your documents is to provide user feedback.

In the world of technical writing, user feedback refers to letting the end user know what to expect after he or she has performed a step in a procedure.

As a technical writer, you must strive to provide feedback to the user at crucial steps in the procedure. By letting the user know what to expect at different steps or stages of a procedure you are making life easier for him or her.

Let's look at an example. The following are five steps on how to navigate through a computer-based training program:

Follow these steps to view the different parts of this training program:

1. Click the Navigation button on the screen
2. To view video tutorials click the Videos button
3. Select the Case Studies button to download case studies
4. Click the Installation History button to see a list of 2007 installations
5. Click the Final Test button to take the final test

Now, let's rewrite these instructions with user feedback:

This training program consists of:

- Four video tutorials
- Six case studies
- A list of 2007 product installations
- A final test

Follow these steps to view the different parts of the training program:

1. Click the Navigation button on the top left part of your screen. This will bring up a Navigation bar on the bottom half of your screen.
2. To view video tutorials click the Videos button the Navigation bar. You will need Adobe Flash Player® to view these tutorials. If you don't have Adobe Flash Player® you can download it by clicking here.
3. Select the Case Studies button from the Navigation bar to download case studies. When you click this button, the Case Studies download will begin and will take approximately seven minutes to complete. The Case Studies will be downloaded to your desktop.
4. Click the Installation History button on the Navigation bar to see a list of 2007 installations.
5. Click the Final Test button on the Navigation bar to take the final test. The Final Test consists of 10 multiple choice questions and is based on the content in this training program. You will need a score of 80% or higher to pass the Final Test.

By providing feedback to the user you let the users know what to expect and are therefore preparing him or her. You are setting the level of expectation.

An easy exercise to become good at writing user feedback is to take a product's manual and rewrite the instructions with user feedback. Compare the original with what you write and evaluate the difference.

Providing user feedback is an often overlooked aspect of technical writing. But it is very important. You can use it to impress prospective clients or when you are looking for technical writing jobs. Let them know you are a strong advocate of providing user feedback. It benefits the end user which is the ultimate goal of every technical writer and every quality driven business.

Learn Writing Style - What is Technical Writing?

Technical writing, sometimes called business writing, is writing for a specific purpose and with a specific goal. Usually its goal is to inform/instruct or persuade/argue. Technical writing can really be considered transactional writing because there are two people or groups involved in the communication. One party has a clear goal to inform or persuade the other party. This is real-world writing in every sense. You may not be aware of how much it already impacts your world through textbooks, instructions, web sites, and communications from many businesses and service organizations. There are professional technical communicators but only large organizations have them and even then they are not there to do your daily work for you and that is why it is so helpful for many to take at least an introductory technical writing class.

Why is technical communication important and what will you use it for? Actually, technical writing will be used by most college graduates as a regular part of their work. It is much more likely that you will use technical writing than either academic or creative writing unless you specifically enter those fields. A few examples of why you will likely need these skills include: getting a job - preparing a resume or curriculum vitae, cover letter, application, and portfolio; doing your job - preparing memos, letters, reports, instructions, case reports, reviews, assignments, descriptions, etc.; and keeping your job - communicating with management, co-workers, peers, patients/students/public.

What separates technical communication from other forms of writing, such as academic writing? Technical communication has a specific audience and is purposeful, usually intended to solve a problem for that audience. One area that really sets technical communication apart is that it is quite often collaborative. Technical communication is also focused on readability issues, not only the use of clear writing, but also page design and graphics. The excellence of technical writing is judged by clarity, accuracy, comprehensiveness, accessibility, conciseness, professional appearance, and correctness.

There are seven principles to guide technical writing: remember your purpose (to inform or persuade), remember your audience (their concerns, background, attitude toward your purpose), make your content specific to its purpose and audience, write clearly and precisely (active voice, appropriate language to audience), make good use of visuals (good page design and graphics), and be ethical (truthful, full disclosure, no plagiarizing).

Technical communication serves both explicit, or clear, and implicit, or implied, purposes. Explicit purposes include to provide information, to provide instructions, to persuade the reader to act upon the information, or to enact or prohibit something. Implicit purposes include establishing a relationship, creating trust, establishing credibility, and documenting actions. Most technical communications are based on a problem statement which gives your document a clearly stated objective for your benefit as well as your reader's. The problem statement defines the problem, by doing more than simply stating your topic, it goes on to explain what about that topic is at issue. For example, if your topic is career guidance then your problem could be the fact that many adults need help identifying a career that suits their strengths and abilities and the solution that your document will present is to create a comprehensive clearing house that helps people identify career paths through military, vocational training, and higher education.

The Core of Technical Writing

"To me, the extraordinary aspect of martial arts lies in its simplicity. The easy way is also the right way, and martial arts is nothing at all special; the closer to the true way of martial arts, the less wastage of expression there is."

Bruce Lee, 1940-1973, Chinese-American Actor, Director, Author, Martial Artist

The Core of Technical Writing

There is one word that lies at the heart of technical writing. It's called simplicity. Part of becoming a good technical writer is to write simply and clearly.

Everything you write should be simple and easy to understand. Don't make life difficult for your target audience. Even when you're writing documents for engineers, keep things simple. I'm not saying don't include technical data, research, diagrams, and charts. Engineers love data. Your goal should be to present this data simply and clearly.

Writing simply is crucial when writing processes and instructions. Think of all the instructions you read when you buy a new product. Some of these are good. Others are confusing. If you confuse the end user, you fail as a technical writer.

Writing simply and clearly is easier said than done. As technical writers, our minds and thoughts are overloaded with information. Some of this information could be complex such as specifications, procedures, best practices, research, case studies, and engineering data. The challenge is to shave off the unnecessary information and only include what's relevant to your target audience.

There is something else which prevents us from writing simply and clearly. It's our individual vocabularies. As writers, there is a natural tendency to use fancy words and flowery language when we write. The key is to remove unnecessary words and phrases from your writing.

How to Write Simply and Clearly

There is no magic formula where you can write simply and clearly overnight. You will have to practice your writing skills. An easy way to start doing this is to take a paragraph of text and rewrite it using fewer words without changing its meaning. Another technique to write simpler is to break down a long complex sentence into two short sentences.

Take a paragraph from a magazine article, an online newsletter, a sales letter, or a brochure and rewrite it. Practice this daily or three to four times a week, and you will see how your writing becomes tighter and simpler. Use the Word Count feature in Microsoft Word or your word processing program to count the original number of words. Then do a Word Count on the paragraph you re-wrote.

Here's an example to get you started:

Original Paragraph

"Rassouli, the first acupuncturist to practice the technique in Canada, charges C$125 per one-hour session for the treatment, which usually requires 10 to 12 visits. Rassouli has trained more than 500 others practitioners from Canada, the United States, and Australia since 2000. Acupuncture, which has been used for more than 2,000 years, involves stimulating certain points on the body, known as "qi" with needles, heat, and pressure."

Number of words: 67

The above paragraph is not confusing. But let's see if we can reduce the word count without changing the meaning.

Here it is:

"The treatment requires 10 - 12 sessions. Rassouli is the first acupuncturist in Canada to offer it. He charges C$125 per session. Since 2000, Rassouli has trained 500 other practitioners from Canada, United States, and Australia. Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years. It involves stimulating certain body points, called "qi" with needles, heat, and pressure."

Number of words: 57

Keep your writing simple. You will please your target audience and your manager or client. More importantly you will improve as a writer.