Becoming a Tech Communicator
This page has been set up to provide you with some basic information on the ways available to move into the technical communication field. It is not feasible to give all the answers to every question but we can provide you with further avenues to explore the options and possibilities.
Note: The term "technical communicator" is often used in preference to the term "technical writer". This is due to the fact that the range of skills provided by a technical communicator are wider than simply writing.
Documentation and technical communication is an exciting field to work in and there are opportunities if you have the right basic talents:
- English language - interest, enthusiasm and writing ability required here!
- analytical ability (for organising information and structuring documents) willingness/ability to learn about business processes, procedures, software, equipment, software authoring tools (and to keep learning)
- sound people skills - technical writers get information from people and write for people so you need to be able to deal with all types.
Apart from these basic talents you'll need to get some relevant training. Training is essential unless:
- you are lucky enough to have a friend who can put work your way
- you have opportunities in your current job to plan and develop documents (either print or online), or
- you can persuade your employer to assign more of this type of work to you.
An employer who will pay for your training in work time is ideal!
You need to choose which training options suit you best. This will depend on your location, time frames and cost.
For further information, go to the Courses link on this website. You will find links to the websites of these training providers who you can then contact for further information. There is also other useful information in the Resources section so it's worth exploring.
Some Worthwhile Reading
- Managing Your Documentation Projects - JoAnn Hackos
- Standards for Online Communication - JoAnn Hackos
- Designing and Writing Online Documentation - William Horton
- The Elements of Technical Writing - Gary Blake and Robert. W Bly
- The Microsoft Manual of Style (useful for writing software user guides)
- The Write Style Manual for Standards New Zealand
- Careers NZ, for information about careers in technical writing
- Society for Technical Communication www.stc.org
- Write Limited www.write.co.nz
- Tactics www.tactics.co.nz
Frequently Asked Questions
Bev Stevens, former Secretary of the organisation, answers some questions from a member of TechCommNZ who has recently moved into the technical communication field.
(Q) How hard is it to actually find work?
(A) Not hard for experienced writers, but hard to get started.
(Q) How much emphasis do clients put on the technical communicator's prior expertise?
I was told that clients seek technical communicators who already have some insight (e.g. by working in the field before becoming a technical communicator) in the client's field of interest. Is this right?
(A) Yes, employers find it hard to appreciate that a good writer can write about a technical subject they aren't already familiar with, even though that's not necessarily true. My own IT background has been most helpful.
(Q) Do you know if technical communicators get much work online from freelance sites such as eLance and can they actually make a respectable income from it?
(A) I haven't heard of eLance, but I list on www.writerfind.com and get some work that way. However most is through industry contacts (I worked for IBM before contracting) and networking.
(Q) Do some industries have a greater need for technical communicators than others?
(A) I agree, the IT industry is the biggest employer of technical communicators, but other industries such as manufacturing engineering, aviation and boat building use tech communicators. In addition, all sorts of organisations need people to document their policies and procedures.
Where to Next?
If you have specific questions once you have read this, please contact us.