I would hardly consider myself an expert in technical writing, but I’ve come far since my discovery of it back in my sophomore year at Wayne State. If I could go back in time and know what I know now, these are a few things I would’ve wanted to get a head start on.
Search for Internships
This was my initial introduction into technical writing. An email from the Wayne State English department alerted me to a technical writing internship, and I jumped at the chance. I doubted that I’d get it—I had no technical writing experience—but here I am. If you think that you don’t have time to be an intern and work, keep in mind that paid internships are out there. It won’t hurt to look!
I currently volunteer for the Society for Technical Communication (STC), which will definitely help me boost my resume. Take into account that there are different chapters for different areas. I live in Michigan, so I went to the website for the southeastern Michigan chapter to look for volunteering opportunities.
I have read that you can reach out to startups and ask if you can help out with documentation. There are open source projects that you can contribute to as well, and that’s something I’ll be looking into when I have more time in the summer.
Take Advantage of School and Library Services
There’s more to technical writing than just writing manuals and instructions. There’s been a good amount of research done on technical writing and communication, and not only is it interesting, but it is worthwhile looking into for a better understanding of the field. Most universities have online library websites, and I use my Wayne State provided access to JSTOR to look up articles on technical communication. If you aren’t a college student, even local libraries have technical communication related books. I’m reading The Half Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman, and I found that at the library right next to my house.
Follow Technical Writing Blogs & Listen to Podcasts
In my spare time, I read Tom Johnson’s technical writing blog I’d Rather Be Writing. Additionally, I’ll listen to the podcasts on his blog site or on other sites, such as 10-minute tech comm. These are easy ways to keep up with the world of technical writing, and the blogs and podcasts are always interesting.
Keep Track of Your Progress
As you’re learning more about technical writing and communication, jot down what you’ve learned and what you think would be useful in the future. I have a notebook where I keep notes from tech writing progress, lists of articles that I might want to look back on, etc.
Getting started in the world of technical writing may seem like a daunting task. There’s certainly a lot to learn, but it’s rewarding to put in the effort and see the results.