Earn a living as a technical writer!

Do you want to earn a steady, reliable income as a writer?

If you answer is yes, then consider technical writing. It is not sexy, and it will not make you famous but working as a technical writer gave me a good steady income and greatly honed my skills in creative writing.

The demand for technical writers is on the rise due to the need to keep up with advanced technology; consequently, there are many opportunities. After all, someone has to write the instructions for all the products and services we use. One of the advantages of technical writing is that age is not a hindrance or an impediment! I started my career in technical writing at the age of 40 and know many technical writers who began in their 50’s.

According to the Society for Technical Communication (from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook), the median annual salary in 2004 for entry-level technical writers was $42.500. The median annual salary for the Midlevel nonsupervisory technical writers was $ 51.500 and for senior nonsupervisory technical writers, $ 66,000. Rates for contractors are always higher at each level. In fact, I’ve earned a minimum of $38 per hour.

There are a number of benefits attached to technical writing. While you do need good writing skills and the ability to communicate instructions clearly to become a technical writer, you don’t need a degree or certification. Additionally, you can start in this field at any point of your life. Although some technical writing jobs may be way above your skill level (I’d never write a medical or legal handbook, for instance), there are many kinds of projects that may fit your own background (for example, a former accountant could write the on a new Accounts Payable system or a former HR professional could write a Human Resources manual).

Now here’s the good news: more and more, technical writers telecommute- every writer’s dream. In fact, I’ve worked remotely on a part-time and full-time basis since 2000. Don’t get too excited yet, though. You have to earn this privilege first by establishing your reputation.

So, how DO you break into the field?

You should look at the existing examples of technical writing first, such as the help section of the programs you use, or even the owner’s manual of your car. You will soon discover that technical writing is simply documenting the necessary steps clearly.

Then think about instructional writing experience you may have. If you’ve never written instructional material, write up some pertaining to your previous job or position. Volunteer to write instructions on office procedures e.g. a quick start guide for the voicemail system, or a how-to article for the company Newsletter. If you are not currently working, I bet you can get a chance if you offer to provide these free services to a local business or non-profit organizations.

Next, rewrite your resume, adding in this new experience. (However, ALWAYS be honest. You’ll inevitably be tripped up if you don’t: It’s not worth the embarrassment.)

You will need two copies of your resume. One will be formatted nicely. You will submit your resumes to prospective employers or mail the resume. Others must be saved as text. You will be posting this copy online. (Hint: Use the asterisk [*] instead of bullets in the text-only copy.)

Next, start the job hunting. Most job opportunities for technical writers are located online (see listings below), but the newspaper Help Wanted sections are also a source. Check out the website for jobs online or that of your local newspapers.

Here are some suggested web sites:

  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder
  • Dice
  • Guru
  • Jobsearch
  • ComputerWork

Most sites allow you to place your CV/resume online. Be prepared to spend some time (about 45 minutes) filling out application forms. Once your CV/resume is online, it is very likely that you will get calls or emails from recruiters seeking further information and perhaps an interview, even if you’re just starting out! Remember, the Recruiters make money by getting you hired and are hungry to find good talent.

Now if you have the writing skills, open your mind and increase your income by becoming a Chicago technical writer!

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