What Is Freelance Technical Writing

Technical writing requires the​ ability to​ write clearly,​ plainly,​ and accurately about extremely complicated material. if​ you can do that—and quickly—then becoming a​ successful technical writer is​ well within your grasp.

The most common clients for freelance technical writers are educational firms,​ training companies and manufacturing/electronics/software companies. All of​ these demand a​ high volume of​ documentation-style writing,​ and thus a​ high volume of​ technical writers to​ produce that writing. However,​ the​ nature of​ technical writing indicates there aren't many opportunities outside these industries. Tech writing is​ only warranted when there's something sufficiently complex to​ explain in​ a​ standardized way,​ and a​ mom n' pop software company may not have the​ money or​ the​ need to​ hire even an​ entry-level tech writer. So if​ you want to​ freelance as​ a​ tech writer,​ you'll almost certainly wind up working on​ contract for one of​ the​ bigger companies.

As with copy editing and journalism,​ a​ high degree of​ familiarity with as​ many style guides as​ possible is​ mandatory for any good freelance technical writer. Technical reports are frequently only a​ small part of​ a​ company's wider technical literature. Writing all of​ a​ company's documentation in​ the​ same style is​ a​ good way to​ ensure consistent quality and readability over a​ long company lifespan. the​ most commonly used style guides are AP (Associated Press),​ MLA (Modern Language Association),​ and Chicago. Strunck and White,​ although older,​ is​ still a​ classic,​ and commonly in​ use with certain firms. Pick up a​ copy of​ each and familiarize yourself with them. Knowing the​ popular style guides will improve your technical writing and you'll become more marketable to​ a​ wide variety of​ clients as​ well.

Once you know which style guide your client works with (and once your own style is​ clear enough to​ write effectively),​ you'll need to​ start thinking about how to​ approach your material. Contacting and interviewing SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) is​ often a​ huge part of​ effective technical writing. Without good technical information supporting your work,​ you won't know what you're writing about. Engineers,​ technicians and professionals who have to​ use the​ work you create won't know what you're writing about either. This leads to​ a​ severe loss of​ productivity and of​ money,​ and probably to​ the​ loss of​ your reputation at​ the​ company as​ well. So make sure you have enough data to​ write your report,​ and make sure you understand it​ as​ thoroughly as​ possible before you start planning your articles. No one expects you to​ know as​ much about,​ let’s say,​ a​ supercollider as​ a​ nuclear physicist (especially not on​ a​ deadline),​ but knowing the​ basic theory and how to​ use most of​ the​ technical vocabulary is​ beneficial.

The one principal rule of​ good writing in​ any field is​ "know your audience." This statement is​ truer of​ technical writing than any other form of​ freelance writing. Your audience,​ in​ technical writing,​ is​ going to​ use the​ processes,​ machines,​ and equipment you write about. if​ your audience can't understand what you're saying or​ follow the​ flow of​ your argument,​ you've failed as​ a​ tech writer. Clients likely won't hire you for future contracts.

Think carefully about whom you're writing for. Do the​ users have a​ background in​ the​ theory behind the​ machine,​ or​ do they just need to​ know how to​ pull the​ levers and push the​ buttons in​ the​ right order? Will the​ users have ready access to​ troubleshooting facilities (i.e. assembly line workers with a​ machine shop on​ the​ factory premises); or​ will they have to​ go to​ some lengths to​ fix any mistakes they might make in​ operation (i.e. people who've bought a​ new operating system and have to​ drive an​ hour to​ whenever their computer needs service)?

Take some time to​ think about your end users,​ their likely qualifications,​ their questions,​ and their overall needs. Structure your articles to​ follow their probable concerns in​ the​ order they'll come up. if​ you need to,​ talk to​ some of​ your prospective end users and ask them questions about what they find problematic in​ their jobs. It'll help you think of​ their problems more when you're structuring your work,​ and that'll make your work that much better.

Once you have your basic structure and some idea of​ the​ logical flow of​ your report,​ all that's left is​ the​ description. Be as​ clear as​ possible while still keeping a​ readable style,​ and be as​ accurate as​ possible. Don't be afraid of​ footnotes and additional information—unless it's specifically prohibited by your client's style policy. as​ long as​ you're thinking of​ your audience,​ and you've done the​ appropriate research and structuring work,​ this part should be straightforward.

If you can synthesize information from SMEs,​ keep your audience well in​ mind,​ and describe complicated processes clearly and simply,​ then you have the​ basic skills to​ be a​ successful freelance tech writer.

Watch the​ classifieds and make inquiries at​ engineering and training companies. You have a​ skill that's in​ high demand. if​ you keep yourself in​ the​ marketplace (and are willing to​ accept a​ "trial period" with lower pay,​ in​ some cases),​ it's only a​ matter of​ time before you establish yourself as​ a​ tech writer. Over time you can develop a​ reputation that'll win you contract after contract and keep your technical writing career alive and thriving.

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