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Technical writing jobs

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by Tucsondriver, Dec 6, 2010.

  1. Tucsondriver

    Tucsondriver Member

    Seems like these jobs are in demand just based on the volume of craigslist ads. I know little to nothing about the work (closer to nothing, actually), but from what I hear the pay is off-the-charts good compared to what we're used to (neighbor told me the software company she works for starts out their technical writers at $65k). Anybody out there know anything about tech writing jobs? Do you have to have an engineering background or something like that? Figure it can't be that easy or everybody would be doing it. So if anybody out there has transitioned to the field, knows somebody else who has, has any suggestions on how to get into it, etc., your thoughts would be much appreciated.
  2. Wendell Gee

    Wendell Gee Member

    After more than 10 years in newspaper, I made the switch a few years ago.

    It can be boring as hell and I feel like an idiot a lot of the time because a lot of the stuff I write about is above my head. But ... I work half as hard as I did in newspaper and make twice as much. I have nights and weekends off. I get holidays off and can take vacation when I want, not when my boss decrees I take it.

    I applied for my job online. At least in my case, they were more excited I had experience working on deadline than concerned I had no technical experience.
  3. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    I can't say I've worked as a technical writer, but I interviewed for a position as a technical writer back in early '09.

    I didn't get the job, but when I was in the interview, the folks I would have been working with definitely minimized my lack of technical experience and were much more interested in the fact that I had experience writing and editing on deadline.

    As a matter of fact, I remember that I'd brought in printed out color PDFs of pages I'd designed at my old shop and gave them to the committee. When one person asked one of the other folks on the committee if he had any questions, his response was, "I'm still reading this." To this day, that was the only time where I got a thank you e-mail before I could send my thank you. (The guy who was still reading what I wrote sent the e-mail before I could get home.)

    The way they described the position when I was there, I could very easily have made the transition from journalism writing to their style of technical writing.
  4. J-School Blue

    J-School Blue Member

    I basically fell into what's essentially a technical writing job in many ways.

    Indeed, I was hired knowing very little about the industry I'm presently writing for. I stressed my ability to write/edit on deadline at the interview (and some nominal experience I had with government records from my news days helped). I was trained in the jargon, which isn't hard to plug along with once you've done it for awhile.

    It's seriously not bad work if you can get it and don't mind writing about stuff that's rather more boring than you see in a newsroom. In the right job you may even have time to freelance and do shinier stuff on the side, though definitely check the company's policy on that sort of thing before doing it.
  5. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Any insight/info would be appreciated.

    I have applied for a couple. One was for updating manuals and such for a very large company. Pay was terrible. About $11.50 an hour.

    One was for a defense contractor. We talked on the phone and they asked a lot of questions. Nothing came of it, though.

    So anyone who has made the plunge and has insights on where to look, what pays best, how to market your newspaper reporting/editing experience, I am sure folks would appreciate it.
  6. JakeandElwood

    JakeandElwood Well-Known Member

    Yes, absolutely what Ace said. I'd love some tips.
  7. JackReacher

    JackReacher Well-Known Member

    Same here. Almost word for word.

    Lots and lots of different kinds of technical writing; from instruction manuals, to computer code, to regulatory development, which is what I do. And each of those jobs require different skill sets and backgrounds.

    Not sure about the pay elsewhere, but in DC, it's remarkable.

    Even if you're unsure about a certain job ad, apply and find out one way or another. A wise man once told me you'll never get a job you didn't apply for.

    Also, half of my office (I think) has some sort of newspaper or media background. Not true of all technical writing offices; just mine.
  8. WhiskeyRiver

    WhiskeyRiver New Member

    I made the move to technical writing back in May after 10 years in newspapers/wires/web. I nearly doubled my base rate, and thanks to copious overtime I’ve already made more in the six-plus months on this job than I did all of last year at the old web gig, for about a quarter of the stress.

    I know for certain, having talked to my boss about it, that my background in journalism made me the slam-dunk hire. They needed someone who can do a little bit of everything all at once, and once she saw that I had extensive page design experience as well as writing on deadline, I went to the top of the interview list.

    As Wendell said, it can be -- and for me it often is -- incredibly boring. The writing is formulaic and dry, and the subject matter will usually be something you know very little, or even nothing about. But you sit down with subject matter experts, get them to walk you through the process and you put it down in a manner that an average Joe off the street can follow.

    I’m fortunate in that my job also has an element of internal communications and I get to write for the company newsletter, a welcome change from procedures. I mentioned earlier I get a lot of overtime, which is unusual in the industry -- most jobs are an 8-to-5 deal. But I work for a contractor in the oil industry, and I frequently travel to Alaska’s North Slope where I work crazy hours -- and get fodder for a blog I write about life in the Arctic Circle, which helps alleviate the boredom of the writing I get paid to do.

    Technical writing will never be as exciting or professionally rewarding as journalism, but journalism was never going to provide me with a decent living, so I think in the end I’ll come out ahead.
  9. Tucsondriver

    Tucsondriver Member

    A four-year state college near where I live offers a technical writing certificate program for college graduates that I'd assume would probably take about a year to complete. Since nobody has mentioned it, I'm assuming everyone that's transitioned from print to technical writing hasn't needed a separate degree, but anybody have an opinion on whether it would help to get that degree, or even take some basic classes?
  10. Wendell Gee

    Wendell Gee Member

    I've got an English degree. At least one of our writers has a degree in technical writing. Probably wouldn't hurt to take some basic classes, but it's not necessary.

    When I was hired, they told me that nobody they hired was going to walk in off the street and know our products. That was going to take training regardless. So my lack of technical experience wasn't a big deal. What was a big deal was my ability to write clearly, concisely and on deadline. All things I had plenty of experience with in newspaper.
  11. Hank_Scorpio

    Hank_Scorpio Active Member

    Are there jobs out there in the field right now?

    Or are they hard to find, just like in newspapers and everywhere else?
  12. Tucsondriver

    Tucsondriver Member

    Like pretty much everything it's regional. I doubt there's much demand in the middle of Nebraska, but there should be opportunities near most metropolitan areas. Best way to know is go to craigslist for your local area and check under writing/editing jobs. Good luck, and thanks to all for chiming in.
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