Technical Writing Aid

Technical Writer

Resume
A technical writer's resume is no more than two pages because it presents an overview. A Curriculum Vitae (CV) is much longer - up to 20 pages of detailed credits and accomplishments. Both resume and CV must be free of any errors. In other industries, if a job seeker submits a resume with small mistakes, the hiring manager might overlook them if the candidate is otherwise a strong contender for the job. However, the job of a technical writer is to create work that cannot have any errors. The resume written by the technical writer is the first piece of work seen by the potential employer and should represent the high quality of future work. Make your first impression favorable and flawless.

The resume formats are chronological, functional, and combination. Chronological is best for senior writers with a stable employment history, ever-increasing responsibility, and steady salary increases. Functional is best for new grads, career changers, or those returning to the workforce after extensive travel, incarceration, raising children, or caring for sick family members. Combination is best for intermediate writers who are seeking more responsibility and a raise in salary. Usually, a freelancer does not present a resume, but does present a portfolio and clippings.

Pick a font that is easy to read and scannable, like Courier. An employer spends about 8 seconds initially sorting your resume from the slush pile. The HR clerk will not take the time to decipher a hard-to-read format. Remember, technical writers must show they can follow a standard format. Place your name at the top of the page, followed by your contact information. Include a career objective only if it is tailored to a specific job advertisement. Do not write a generic goal, such as "To obtain a job as a technical writer." Include the following information:

  • Technical Skills - Provide detailed information regarding the computer programs, systems, networks, and programming languages you know. Do not embellish your skill set because you will complete timed testing. An employment agency will disqualify you for falsifying your credentials. A private employer that hires you without testing will soon dismiss you for misrepresentation. Do not assume you can learn programs "on the fly" after orientation.
  • Work Experience - List past jobs in reverse chronological order, with the most recent first. Include the job title, description, employer name, and dates of employment. Focus on your responsibilities and duties. Highlight measureable achievements (promotions, awards, exceeding goals, etc.). Avoid cliches. Use action verbs.
  • Education and Training - Most technical writers have at least a Bachelor's degree. In addition to post secondary education, many writers have professional certifications or other relevant training experience that can be listed. It is also acceptable, but not necessary, to include any academic honors or a high grade point average.

Proofread your resume after it has sat in your drawer for a day. You will not notice errors when you read the same document three times in the same day. Ask a trusted colleague or professional resume writer to do the same to double check for errors.

Personal Website
A personal, professional Website is crucial low-cost advertising for the technical writer. Many Web hosting companies charge little or no fees, so it can be very cost effective. Your Web site must be well designed and easy to navigate. Include the following information:

  • Contact Information - Make it obvious who owns the site. Your name or business name must be prominent. Include your business phone number and e-mail address. Do not include your home address or a personal photo. You may list a P.O. Box.
  • Experience - You may provide a complete resume or dedicate a portion of the site to selected professional experience. Remember that the site can be phished for personal information and it is better to screen potential employers personally.
  • Samples of Work - Published articles, completed projects, and links to Web documents should feature in your portfolio. If you are a new writer with no credits, include MBA school writing samples or unpaid writings.
  • Services - Clearly state your specialty. Do not post flat rates. Ask the reader to contact you to discuss the project. Remember that tax officials search the Web to compare postings with income tax files. Customize your charges, depending on the project. Phone the prospective client back to ensure you are speaking with a legitimate employer.
  • Testimonials - Provide genuine testimonials and positive reviews. It is always a good idea to ask former employers to do this at the end of your project, and then update your Website.

Writing Samples
Every technical writer should keep a portfolio showcasing past writing projects. Almost every potential employer wants to see examples of a writer's work, in addition to a resume. Place a copyright notice prominently on your Web site.

Some projects are confidential. The technical writer may be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement or non-competition agreement. These oblige you not to discuss the project with outsiders. It is still possible to use these projects in a portfolio if:

  • The employer's information is removed or disguised
  • Critical data (numbers, figures, dollar amounts) is changed or omitted
  • The company gives the writer permission to use the work following completion of the contract

Do not share information illegally with a competitor.

Since every piece of work created by a technical writer goes through an editing process, include edited and unedited samples in your portfolio. Employers want to see how capable a writer is of creating work that does not require major revisions. Some technical writers include self-edited work.

Include examples of different types of work. Unless you perform only a limited type of work, include user manuals, business reports, white papers, Help files, etc.

Technical writers with little or no experience may perform free work or write for reduced pay to build up a portfolio of writing samples. Unless this is pro bono work for a registered charity, it is probably not worth your time and energy to write "freebies" in this way.

Setting Rates
Technical writers who chose to work freelance are responsible for setting their own pay rates. Sometimes, contract or salaried technical writers have room for negotiation, so they also need to be familiar with "the going rate". Writers prefer to charge by the hour, but many employers want to pay by the word or by the project. There is a wide range of rates depending upon the writer's experience, the difficulty of the project, and the employer. Consider these things when setting your rates:

Charge enough to be profitable. This is your business, not a charity. Track hours spent on projects and calculate the rate earned per hour to find your average earning ability. It is usually not a good idea to charge a "flat rate" per project. It could end up being a difficult or timely project, resulting in very little pay per hour.

Be competitive. Beginners need to set reasonable prices, but should be wary of setting prices too low, just to get work experience. More experienced technical writers can charge more, but should have an idea of their competition's rates, and what employers are willing to pay.

Professional Writer Certification
A technical writer does not need to obtain professional writer certification or technical writer certification to be successful. However, many writers choose to obtain some sort of official certification. A university degree with a certificate in a specialized area of expertise displays creditability. Certification can show that a technical writer has met or exceeded measurable guidelines in technical writing. New writers often gain certification to prove their abilities in the market, while veteran writers like to show they are capable of keeping up with the changes in the industry.

The best way to achieve certification is through an accredited college or university. In addition to their degree programs, many schools schedule Continuing Education courses or workshops in Technical Writing. The student receives certification upon successful completion of the program. Some colleges offer distance learning programs, so technical writers who do not live near the school can still partake of the program. Three schools offering many types of technical writing programs are: University of Washington, Sacramento State College, and Louisiana Tech University.

A few reputable online programs offer certification, but many more are fraudsters. Check with the Society for Technical Communications (stc.org) to verify the authenticity of a program before paying any fees.

Develop Technical Skills
Obviously, technical writers develop technical skills through working and using new technologies. However, spend extra time honing your skills to become well rounded and more marketable as a technical writer. Skills essential for a technical writer include: Word processing, desktop publishing, Web design, interview transcription, and programming languages.

Many technical writers are genuinely interested in technology and are comfortable using their free time to develop Web pages, work on project design, or learn about other technology through self-instruction. Numerous online tutorials and e-books teach about any technical subject imaginable.

Technical writers must be up-to-date with their industry. Subscribe to trade magazines, journals, or newsletters. Join a professional writers' organization and attend at least one seminar annually. Most subscriptions, union and membership fees, and tuition are tax-deductible business expenses.

Technical Writing - Main


Last Updated: 09/18/2014

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