As long as consumers continue using tech devices and digital platforms to gain access to products, services, and other information, there will always be a need for online content. That’s great news for freelance writers who often rely on gigs developing blog posts, web content, newsletters, and more. Unfortunately, the increased demand for quality writers has created an unprecedented amount of competition. If you’re going to stand out, you must continue looking for opportunities to evolve. [Read more…]
As interest in Initial Coin Offerings continues to grow, the market has established a set of ICO guidelines that insists every team needs a white paper. Subsequently, the success of an ICO launch depends on the effectiveness of its white paper. The white paper is not just a marketing pitch to online investors but is the business plan that guides all the actions of the startup going forward. [Read more…]
Some of the best freelance writing jobs are specialized tasks, such as technical writing work, medical or legal transcription, or work in the arts, architecture, or music. The one serious challenge with these jobs, though, is that most freelancers don’t necessarily know the full array of vocabulary necessary to complete these jobs. Though they may be interested in the field or have some background knowledge, technical language skills are often acquired in the course of the job. [Read more…]
Legal writing is one of the more lucrative specializations in the freelance writing sector. The requirements for legal writers are generally more stringent thus giving the writers the opportunity to command higher rates.
This is not to say that you can simply declare yourself a legal writer. As with any specialization, you’ll need to undergo some training, learn, and gain some experience. There will also be that transition period as you work your way to becoming a fully fledged legal writer.
So, how do you transition to legal writing? Here are some tips that will make it easier for you.
Ads for legal writers may have caught your eye over the years, but you may not have bothered taking a look because you don’t know really know anything about legal writing. Nothing to be ashamed of – you’re part of the majority. Since legal writing is a very specific niche, there are fewer freelance writers who specialize in it.
Did you hear that? The sweet tinkle of the bell of opportunity.
Specific niche = less competition = higher rates
First, though, you actually need to answer the question: “What is legal writing”?” [Read more…]
Many people believe that if you want to be a freelance writer you should get a degree in communications, journalism, or creative writing, but this is an overly narrow assessment of the field. Restricting writers to these majors would eliminate some very talented professionals.
Freelance writers can actually come from a range of fields, a certain niche might demand skills that those rooted in communications or journalism may not have, such as engineering knowledge or statistics. Rather than pigeonhole writers into these few majors, we would all do well to consider the many paths to a writing career.
The most important thing you can do is demonstrate your expertise, clarity, and dedication.
I’ve been a (more than) full-time writer for ten years. It takes talent, ambition and the ability to manage your time and money to be successful. Contrary to popular belief, you can be a successful freelance writer without starting your own business. However, if you have a habit of slacking or procrastinating, this probably isn’t the path for you.
My typical day includes writing for up to ten clients at a time. This includes everything from SEO-rich web content to brochures for international hotel chains. I scour job boards for new openings and apply daily, even if I have a full workload for the next few months. I’m also updating my resume, website and LinkedIn while learning new skills like SES qualifications as I accept new projects. [Read more…]
It is no secret that technical writing jobs pay well. Many freelance writers slowly slip into the technical writing sphere and get stuck. The jobs are plenty and the pay is good, and as a writer this stability is appealing. Other freelance jobs that seem to pay well are those connected with a specific company. For example, I used to write for a credit card website, so naturally my writing was centered on credit card tips and advice. There used to be a time when I would try and play around with my sentence structures and get fancy with metaphors, but the longer I wrote a certain way the less and less I felt the need to be creative.
While everything I wrote was true to my own experiences, I did leave out some of the major challenges that all technical writers face.
This week I’m going to fix that oversight in this post by listing seven challenges that you may face as a freelance technical writer.
Seven Challenges to Technical Writing
Technical writing is a great field, but there are some challenges that technical writers must sometimes overcome:
- Rework and repetition. Technical writers have a lot of rework and repetitive work–not necessarily because the writer has done anything wrong, but rather because the technical products that they are writing about tend to change often. It’s common for a new technical writer to be assigned the task of updating existing materials, rather than producing new information.
- No byline. It’s rare for a technical writer to get a byline on a manual, help system, or other document that he or she has produced. This is one reason why good references are so important. Although you should bring samples to interviews whenever you can, your prospective client will almost certainly be checking with your previous documentation manager.
- Respect. Technical writers usually work as part of a technical team. While I had wonderful experiences with nearly every team I was on, occasionally a technical writer encounters a team of engineers or programmers who just don’t want to cooperate, either because they are too busy or because they don’t see the value in what the writer is doing. A good technical writer must also have good people skills.
- Long hours. Staff technical writers tend to work long hours. They often have deadlines that mirror the tight deadlines faced by the development team. Sometimes freelance technical writers aren’t allowed to work those long hours because management doesn’t want to pay overtime. Other times, however, the freelancer works as many hours as the staff writers do. Clarify overtime expectations before accepting any jobs.
- Change. If you’re a technical writer, you’re probably working in a technology field. This means that things will be changing often. The tools you use, the product you write about, and even the manner in which you produce information will be different over the course of your career. It’s important for you to invest the time and effort that it takes to learn new things.
- Must work core hours on site. At nearly every company where I worked as a technical writer, we were required to work on site at least part of the time. This varies from company to company, but I think that there are still some companies who require their writers to work on site–particularly if the product is large, non-portable, or if the writer will be dealing with sensitive information.
- Meetings. Technical writers go to both formal, and informal meetings. Even freelance technical writers usually find it necessary to schedule meetings with other members of the development team. If the company has more than one technical writer, there are often writing group meetings to discuss common problems and standards.
Anyone who is seriously considering transitioning into the technical writing field should think long and hard about these challenges before making a final decision. All of these obstacles can be overcome, but it requires effort.
Learn Even More About Technical Writing
You don’t have to take my word on what technical writing is like. Fortunately, there are many good online resources available from other technical writers.
If you’re truly interested in freelance technical writing, it’s actually a good idea to get a variety of perspectives. Everyone’s experience will be a little bit different based on where they work and the type of assignments that they’ve worked on.
Spend some time looking at the resources below.
Here are some great descriptions of technical writing from other technical writers on the web:
- “Could you please tell me what the job of a technical writer is like?” from Tom Johnson
- The Technical Writing FAQ from John Hewitt
- A day in the life…of a Senior Technical Writer from Lynda Sereno
- Day in the Life of a Technical Writer + Buffet video link from Heidi Hansen
Also, here are some terrific writing blogs with a technical writing focus:
What other questions do you have about technical writing? Are you a technical writer? Why not share your experiences?
We’ve talked about technical writing here on Freelance Writing Jobs before. In this post, I include technical writing as one of twelve high paying writing jobs.
Even in this economy, technical writing is one area where one can still earn good money. John Hewitt, writing at PoeWar, lists the annual income of technical writers as ranging from $42,000 to $63,000. For a senior technical writer, the income range is $56,000 to $81,000.
Fortunately, technical writing is one area where I can share my personal experiences. I worked in this area for nearly a dozen years.
What Do Technical Writers Do?
Many people think that a technical writer’s main focus is on creating user manuals in the software industry. While this is still a part of what many technical writers do, technical writers actually work in many different industries.
Any time a non-technical audience needs to understand technical or detailed information, a technical writer can provide a clear explanation.
Some of the projects that I’ve personally tackled as a technical writer include:
- Creating context-sensitive software help systems
- Creating training materials
- Updating a company’s intranet
- Developing a corporate style guide
- Editing company newsletters
- Researching agile programming technique
- Testing software applications
- Revising and structuring documentation for medical equipment
- Creating flowcharts for corporate processes
As a technical writer, I worked directly with the hardware or software development team. I also attended meetings and interviewed developers when necessary.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Technical Writer?
Most companies prefer that a technical writer have a college degree (although not always in technical writing). In this economy, I would strongly recommend that would-be technical writers have some technical writing training.
Many colleges have technical writing programs for professionals who already have another degree. There are also distance-learning programs available that allow you to study from home. (Be sure to pick a reputable school.) Also, don’t forget that the STC offers informational programs for technical writers.
In addition to formal education, some personality traits are helpful to technical writers:
- Ability to learn new things very quickly. Often, you will be writing about products that are in the process of being created. You may be among the first to use a new product.
- Good people skills. Technical writers often work as part of a development team. They must be able to interact with others to get the information that they need to do their job.
- Attention to detail. Accuracy is crucial for technical writers. Materials that the writer develops must correctly reflect the product or service that they are writing about.
A technical writer is expected to understand the tools that the company uses to create its materials. While Microsoft Word is popular, a technical writer may be required to understand more specialized tools such as Adobe RoboHelp, MadCap Flare, Adobe FrameMaker, and many others. A good understanding of HTML and other web languages is also helpful. (Over the years, I’ve had to learn well over a dozen very different, very specific tools.)
Is There a Future for Technical Writing?
As the information economy expands, there are more and more job opportunities for technical writers.
The U.S. government also agrees that technical writing still has a bright future. In the most recent U.S. Occupational Outlook handbook it states that jobs in technical writing are expected to grow faster than average.
(It’s important to disclose that I live in Texas, a state with a huge technology community. While technical writing work can be found everywhere and some work can be done remotely, the opportunities in a state like Texas may be greater than those in other states.)
Technical writing has a fairly high learning curve. Not only must technical writers learn about the product they are documenting, they also must be familiar with the authoring tools that the company uses, and with the company’s own writing standards.
For this reason, when a company finds a good technical writer they usually keep them on board. Independent technical writing contractors often return to the same company to work over and over again.
Does technical writing sound interesting to you? Do you have any other questions?