From teaching to technical writing: getting started

The semester is finally over, so my free time is my own again! This summer I plan to fully devote my time and energy towards learning more about technical writing. I anticipate that I will be working towards this new goal for the next 3 – 6 months.

After I made my decision to make the switch to technical writing, I immediately began doing some research to find out what I need to do. Namely, I wanted to find out how I can transition from being a classroom teacher to a technical writer. I figure that I have the necessary writing skills (being a writing instructor and writing consultant), but I have never written documentation, user manuals, or white papers. Furthermore, my technical background is actually non-existent. The only technology I use on a regular basis is the LMS my school uses. I am vaguely familiar with HTML, but only for the basics.

I have been reading this book called Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers by Dr. Dawn Graham. It is a very good book and it provides some practical advice on how to make a career switch, whether someone is switching roles within their industry, or switching industries altogether.

One important point the text mentions is that career changers must consider whether or not their target career field requires additional education. I believe that I have the research and writing skills to become a technical writer, but I don’t have any formal experience in technical communication itself. So, I decided to sign up for the Certified Professional Technical Communicator training course offered by the Society for Technical Communication (STC).

It is an online course, and learners have access to the material for three months. Afterwards, there is a 50-question exam to take. Those who pass are considered certified technical communicators and are entered in a database managed by the STC.

There are three tiers to the program, and I am doing the first one: foundational. The goal of the program is to help learners understand and remember important aspects of technical communication. I took a practice exam before getting into the material and earned a 60%, which is technically a failing grade, but it means that I know a little bit about writing and design. Most of the questions on the test actually intersect with the material I teach my students!

Once final papers are done and grades submitted I plan to start the first module of the course, which is about project planning. From there, I’ll move on to project analysis. My hope is to be finished with the course by the end of the summer so I can take the exam before the semester starts. In the meantime, I need to figure out how to build a portfolio. In either case, I’m looking forward to learning something new.

Time for a career change: blending linguistics and technical writing

I’ve been working as an English instructor since finishing graduate school. Although I am an academic at heart, I’ve been itching to make a career change. I bounced around from idea to idea – curriculum developer? instructional designer? – before settling on a career path outside of academia that might work for me: technical writer.

I took an entry-level technical writing course in college and enjoyed it. By the end of the course I designed a feasibility study to examine the benefits/disadvantages of changing my campus’ bus system. Unfortunately, it was just an introductory course, so I didn’t have the opportunity to delve further in the world of technical writing.

After graduating with my BA, I tried to figure out where I was going next. Most websites that I saw detailed the numerous career paths for linguistics graduates, and they included technical writing, but I never quite figured out how to make that transition. Technical writing seems like a field where you need to have a set of specialized knowledge to design proposals, manuals, etc.

I plan to study to become a certified professional technical communicator through the Society of Technical Communication. My hope is to have a portfolio of writing samples ready to go by the time I sit the exam. The timing for this works out well, as I do not think I will be teaching this summer.

In either case, I look forward to figuring out how to blend linguistics and technical writing together!

LaTex for Linguists

So, I’ve had this itch lately. An itch to look at my old research from graduate school and see what I could do with it. I dug up my papers, indecipherable notes, and powerpoint presentations from graduate school and decided that my research idea might be worth exploring again. The only problem I encountered was that I didn’t like the way my paper looked. It is focused on morpho-syntax in AAE, and as such, I need to include syntax trees in my essay. But they are out of place, out of alignment, and it throws off the structure of my paper. I wanted to find software that would produce nicer looking essays – something you might see in a refereed journal.

Enter LaTex. I’d heard of it before – my brother uses it for his math courses – but never tried it myself. I downloaded MacTex, which comes with TexShop, an editor and previewer for MacOS, and Tex Live Utility, which (if I’m figuring this out right) tells me what packages are installed (??? – still figuring this out).

Anyway.

I’ve been using it for a few days, and I like it so far, but there’s a learning curve re: the syntax of LaTex. First, there’s understanding the preamble, which is where you essentially set up the document size, fonts, the type of document itself, and any packages you want LaText to load.

\documentclass[a4paper, 12pt]{article}

\usepackage{qtree}

\usepackage{gb4e}

\begin{document}

Above, the type of document (article), font size (12pt), and two packages are loaded. The two packages mentioned in the preamble are {qtree} and {gb4e}. The former is used to draw trees in LaTex; the former is used for examples, like glosses.

Understanding the syntax of this software is tricky, but I am slowly getting the hang of it. Besides, I enjoy a challenge!