Technical Writing

How’s the tech writing job market? I could pick up a certification with a little money and a little work through a community college or online school. (And me with two M.A.s to my name… :eek::confused:) Could it be worth it?

My wife does medical writing - on-line medical encyclopedias, inserts, even a biology textbook. Her business is up during the recession.

Her most important assets for her jobs are a biology degree, a nice bunch of clips, and a reputation for turning stuff in on time and with good quality. If you have a good technical background, and have published stuff anywhere (even if not relevant to the technology) find some places that are looking for writers and submit stuff. Many places ask you to do a sample (paid for, often) before hiring you.

She’s a freelancer - I think the full time market isn’t as good.

Hi. I was a pro tech writer for about eight years and then went freelance for three. Haven’t done it since 2000, though.

You might want to contact recruitment agencies that cater primarily to the software and internet technologies industries. I expect that if they are honest, they will tell you that the picture now is the same as it ever was: there is always a small demand for good tech writers, but they are nobody’s idea of a priority. The recruitment agencies themselves are primarily concerned with software geeks of various ranks, from entry-level coders to architects and project managers, because that’s where the money is. The software companies, meanwhile, regard documentation as the last and least of all priorities, somewhere below making sure the office plants get watered once a week, and regard tech writers as a regrettable, occasional necessity.

Good tech writers can always find work, but companies will usually prefer to hire a freelance for the absolute minimum period needed to get the writing done than to hire someone full-time. Breaking into the freelance market is hard for the same reason it’s hard to break into any market: people want to see evidence of previous work before they’ll hire you, but how can you build up a track record if you can’t get hired? All you can do is persist, keep yourself always instantly available, and wait for a break that will come, sooner or later.

I was a tech writer for twenty-some years, in all kinds of situations: full-time with technology companies, under contract through tech writing agencies, and freelance. I have to say that there are some very good points are made by ianzin. I also changed careers and haven’t done any tech writing for some time, so I hope my info is still timely.

In addition to what’s already been posted, I would suggest that you investigate the Society for Technical Communication (STC). They do a lot of research into the tech writing job market, going rates in various locations, educational qualifications, and so on. I’m unsure whether one must be a member to access this information, but it can’t hurt to try.

Also, look carefully in your area for specialized tech writing agencies, and bounce your questions off them. These are like the recruitment agencies that place other technical professionals, but they deal only in tech communicators. They can be hard to find if you’re not in the business, but they’re out there–perhaps the STC would know of ones in your area.

Good luck!

I did this for awhile in 2003 and made some decent change, free lancing, but since about 2005 I found all my jobs and customers were sent over to India. Whereas I was getting between 20¢ and 50¢ per WORD, the outsource to India pays 10¢ per PAGE.

So I guess if you have a really specific area of expertise you can still find decent work as a free lance, but the market isn’t what it used to be

I work as a technical writer for a really big company (trust me, you’d know the name) in California and they are sending all the jobs to India as quick as they can. On the rare occasions we are permitted to hire a desperately needed contractor, we have to hire a remote contractor who works for cheapcheapcheap because they live in an area with a low cost of living (Texas, typically).

Thanks for the info.

I think the best idea is I should just move to India. :wink:

I’m a tech writer for a well-known Silicon Valley company.

My advice is to try a course or two and see if you like the work. If you do, then get some certification, go out and try to make some bucks. Any job that you really like doing is worth it. If you’re not doing something you like right now, it could definitely be worth it.

Prospects vary. I mean, after all, that in Detroit your prospects are not going to be as good as in Silicon Valley. Here are some thoughts about what you should expect:
[li]Your prospects are much better if you have a technical background.[/li][li]Your prospects are much better if you have a lot of training and experience in an area that needs technical writers. For example, someone who works on his or her own car makes a better tech writer for an auto company.[/li][li]On the whole, journalists make better tech writers than frustrated novelists. Be warned; tech writing isn’t creative writing.[/li][li]The biggest demand that I see right now in the field of tech writing is for former software engineers to write about software for other developers.[/li][li]Many companies have outsourced technical writing to India. Some are reversing this process, because of the problems they’ve encountered. Still, it’s going to be an issue for a while.[/li][li]It is very difficult to get your foot in the door, right now. The market for experienced tech writers is good, but the market for newbies is poor. You may have to scratch and claw a bit. The demand is for experience, for people who can be productive next week, not two months from now. Even with a certificate can’t make up for 10 years of experience.[/li][li]On the other hand, as a newbie you cost less to hire.[/li][li]The tech writer field has a very large percentage of contractors. I’ve never been one, so I can’t offer advice. Seems to me that if you have that entrepreneurial spirit, it’s a way to go. Might be tough to get going, though.[/li][li]On the other hand, it’s easier to get hired as a contractor. The company has less liability. Once you get one or two gigs (and you do well in them), you’re set for a while.[/li][li]Do a Google search to see if your area has a local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. If it does (most metropolitan areas have at least one), go to one of the meetings. Tech writing is all about connections.[/li][/ul]

Have fun! And most importantly, remember:

“Only one space after a period ending a sentence.” :smiley:

And Tech writing can completely warp your abilities as a creative writer. I noticed this when I entered NaNoWriMo last November. After six years of being a technical writer my prose was horrible, apparently ability with metaphor is the first thing to go.