I belong to a few online technical writing communities and I tend to see a lot of people wondering about how to get started in this field. I see this question come from software developers, scientists, people with computer science degrees, and people who like to write and want to get started in what I believe, is a very rewarding career in technical communications.
I have been a professional technical writer for ten years and I love what I do. Prior to starting my career as a technical writer, I was a project manager, database developer and administrator. I was also doing a lot of technical writing throughout those years, which is how I got started.
While this path worked out well for me, there are many paths you can take to start your career in technical writing. Whether you are starting your first career or your third, here are six ways you can get started on your way to writing for a living:
1. Get an education in writing.
Take some courses to get started. You can even get a technical writing certificate; there are many community colleges and schools that offer this course of study. If you enjoy the courses, think about getting a degree in English, Communications, or Journalism. Many of these courses can also be found in an online format.
2. Take some computer courses and learn the fundamentals of information technology.
If you want to be a technical writer, you will need to understand the basics in order to write about technology. Like the writing courses, you can also find many online computer courses. And don’t forget to check out some of the online courses offered by some of the top universities, such as Harvard’s CS50 Computer Science course. This course is free, or for $90.00 you can get a certificate of completion.
3. Get online and read some of the technical journals out there.
This includes online content such as TechCrunch, Slashdot, Wired, and CNet. You can find articles on hardware, software, networks, apps, how technology works, and how people use it.
4. Learn about the tools used in technical writing.
This includes tools such as RoboHelp, MadCap Flare, Microsoft Word, and Adobe InDesign, just to name a few. You can download free trails of these applications online and learn how they work.
Volunteer to do some writing at work, especially if you work in an IT shop. Not only will people appreciate this, but you will gain a wealth of experience. Be sure to start small, maybe write a short user guide. This is the best way to gain experience in technical writing.
6. Write, write, write.
Go online and find an open source program and write a short manual or quick reference guide for it. Then find a mentor to read it and give you feedback. Or, if you are feeling bold, email it to the developers and ask them to read it. Real-world writing experience is invaluable.
These are a few of the ways you can get started in technical writing. If you have a technical or writing background, you are already on your way to a most satisfying career. If not, try a few of these ideas to get started.