My Education: BA, Journalism and Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill MS, Technical Communication, North Carolina State University
My Prior Experience: I worked in corporate communications as an editor for five years before starting my own business.
My Company: I have my own business helping other companies develop and deliver effective communications.
Job/Career Overview: One aspect of my job is technical writing and that's what I'll focus on here. Technical writers are essentially behind-the-
scenes liaisons between computer hardware and software designers and the end user or consumer. They plan, design, organize, write, edit and test information so buyers can quickly and effectively use the product. Doing this well can be a matter of vital importance. Imagine, for example, that it was your job to write instructions for a software package being used by a special operations unit in Afghanistan. Your client is a software developer with defense contracts, and you're responsible for learning what the software is designed to do and writing instructions for it. You would work with engineers to gather the descriptions, called specs, and then determine the best way to convey the instructions: Should it include installation guides? Online help? Routine maintenance procedures? You would also decide how the instructions should be delivered to the customer, whether as a CD, a printed manual, a web help application, video tutorials or some combination of these. Using technical writing tools and software programs, you would write the instructions and integrate them into the client's software, producing an online help system, PDF instruction guide, and web page. Finally, you would test the instructions to ensure that the user could perform the tasks by following the instructions.
And that part about Afghanistan? Just kidding.
More Insights: I'm often asked what skills you need to become a good technical writer. At minimum, you need an undergraduate degree or certificate in technical writing. My undergrad degree is in journalism, and I'll have my master's degree in technical communication
from North Carolina State University this December. I'd say probably half of tech writers have master's degrees. You need knowledge of software programs used to create online graphics and help manuals. But you also need to be computer-savvy and able to quickly learn new versions of the software programs and tools we use, as well as podcasts and blogging. You need good problem-solving skills. If your blood pressure rises when you can't figure out how to do something, this probably isn't the field for you. Finally, you need the flexibility to be able to learn about products specific to the particular industries, or even companies, in which you work.
I rate this career 8 out of 10.
It can be a real challenge just getting access to the developers, who are busy working on the product. The second challenge is getting them to understand that if I can't understand what they are explaining to me, I can't translate
it into terms that a layman will be able to understand.
I am about to complete a master's degree in technical communication. In the program, about half the people come from a writing background and the other half from an engineering or technical background. The latter have strong technical expertise but need to build their writing skills. So look at what your strong suit is and work on building the other half, because you'll need to have both.