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.

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