Guest Post: From Translator to Technical Writer

Posted in TechComm Career Path on 9/21/20184 min read

Office

Technical writing becomes more and more popular as technology develops fast. More people are getting interested in this sphere, and some of them want to retrain to get this job. However, people don’t know where to start and what skills they need. That’s why, we asked Kesi Parker to share her story. She had been working as a translator then she started her career as a technical writer. Kesi wrote a guest post telling her story.

Journey Begins

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I graduated from the University with a master degree in Applied Linguistics and Translation. After graduation, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. So, I found a job according to my speciality. My responsibilities were not only to translate texts but edit some of them. Once, I was asked to do a review of some technical writing topics. Of course, at first, it was difficult for me because I didn’t know the product well and how to edit such texts properly. So, I interviewed the members of the documentation team and other reviewers. It helped me do this task well, and it was a starting point. When I read those topics, I was impressed by technical writers - they had managed to describe all those difficult features in such a manner that even I, a humanities-minded person, understood all of them.

This sphere was so interesting for me, thus I started to communicate with tech writers and developers more often. They noticed my interest and advised me some resources for further exploration. Later, I took some courses, I spent all my free time learning. After a while, in order to apply my knowledge, I asked my manager to allow me to write an easy topic. The result was good, so I started working on different tasks in both translation and technical writing. Finally, I changed my position in this company and became a technical writer.

My Experience

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Of course, my story sounds like it’s easy to get this job, but I want to emphasize that I spent a lot of time to get primary skills. I want to share with you some tips that are based on my experience and may help you:

  • Communicate with people. For introverts, this job could be difficult because you should communicate with other technical writers, product owners, subject matter experts and developers all the time. I’m an extrovert, so it was easy for me to find common ground with people. It helped me break into technical writing through getting experience of others.

  • Practice. Nowadays, there are many resources to get practice. You can start your blog or do a review of documentation that is available online. For example, create an account on GitHub and help other technical writers. Even Microsoft allows people to send comments with suggestions on how to improve their documentation.

  • You don’t need a degree. I think that a potential employer isn’t interested in your degree, your skills are more valuable. That’s why, you should create a portfolio of your best manuals. But how can you do it if you don’t have the experience? If you are a translator, for example, print some samples of your work. It will show your knowledge of grammar and punctuation. However, the best way is to work as a volunteer and help technical writers with developing documentation. For example, recently in my own blog I mentioned the resource named iFixit where you can get experience writing manuals for devices.

  • Read a lot. When I started my career as a technical writer, first tasks were to change old screenshots to new ones because the product was upgraded. Working on these tasks, I examined topics that were written by professionals. It helped me get some useful ideas on how to write clearly. Also, I wrote down some sentences and even paragraphs, so keep your notebook within reach.

  • Be able to use modern help authoring tools. Technical writing isn’t just writing, it’s developing. Technical writers create charts, screenshots, videos and even comics (as Microsoft does) to make content easier for implementing. That’s why, professional technical writers use special help authoring tools that allow them to not only type but also work in a team, develop visual content, easily publish their manuals and so on.

  • Choose your industry. Technical writers create technical documentation for different industries, for example, civic and social organisations, advertising and public relations, programming, electric power industry (including generation, transmission, and distribution), the federal executive branch and so on. So, before starting your career, choose an industry that will suit you.

  • Remember, technical writing is still technical. If you have artistic imagination, this job, probably, is not your cup of tea because the technical writing language should be clear without metaphors, epithets or other figures of speech.

Conclusion

Of course, it’s difficult to start a career in a new sphere - your salary will be low at first, you will have to learn a lot and you will not have much free time. However, I think technical writing is worth it. You will use modern tools and devices, meet interesting and smart people, take part in exciting events such as Write The Docs Conferences and so on. I hope my pieces of advice will make your journey easier.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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