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Guiding an interested colleague into the wondrous world of technical writing

I work for a company that values cross-functional relationships and corporate-wide knowledge sharing. We strive to help each other succeed. I recently helped the front line customer support team craft their content into a structured document using the corporate template.

The exercise was fun for all of us. We analyzed their content, used task-based titles to identify user tasks, applied the corporate style standards, and cut extraneous content. A fellow team member expressed an interest in pursuing more technical writing assignments. He asked “How can I get started in technical writing?” and “How can I build my online portfolio?” while he continues to succeed in his current awesome role.

We chatted by phone and I enthusiastically suggested numerous courses of action. Timing and specific events might vary, but I realized that this information might be valuable for future inquiries. With my continuous quest for industry knowledge, a wide industry network, and active participation as a Society for Technical Communication (STC) member and volunteer leader I was able to provide the following suggestions for my colleague:

September is the STC technical communication competitions kickoff. Consider entering or serving as a volunteer judge.

Look online to find local STC chapter. Get involved. I am a longtime volunteer leader for STC competitions. This year, STC Philadelphia Metro (my home chapter) and NY Metro merged to hold a prestigious regional competitions. We have a free roadshow event on September 27 to highlight “what makes a winning entry” with interviews and presentations by past winners. Attend competition-related events, serve as a volunteer, get involved. Review the international competition criteria, consider how to make your own work measure up to industry standards of excellence.

Volunteer! I am Membership Manager for STC Palm Beaches Chapter in addition to actively participating at the international level. I present at regional conferences, volunteer my time and attention to new members, and stay involved to keep skills sharp. Attend and get interested in STC organizations, volunteer and keep good records (what meetings you attend: speaker, date, take aways). Consider paying it forward. Share what you know.

Attend industry events: conferences, workshops, program meetings.

In October 2013, I’m an invited guest at the LavaCon Conference on Digital Media and
Content Strategies in Portland, WA. By following @lavacon on twitter and building a search feed on the #lavacon hashtag, I found out that a fellow STC Philadelphia Metro Chapter member is presenting at the free Adobe Thought Leadership Day. It’s great to have a friend there! We’re on the same flight and staying at the same hotel. Twitter does make the world a smaller place.

You can register free for Saturday Oct. 6, 8am-1pm for Adobe Thought Leadership Day. Then blog about it, tweet about it, and keep in touch with other attendees. Connect on LinkedIn, and engage in relevant conversations.

Need writing samples? Then write! Start a blog. My own blog is not consistently active, but it did help me get hired at my current job. My LinkedIn profile has a link to my blog. I did a web search on “barrie byron blog” and the first three search results were right on target: my blog, my LinkedIn profile, and a guest blog post that I wrote for the STC Rochester Chapter last year (and which I promptly forgot about… handy to have search results to remind me). Why did I have a guest blog post? Because I attended their regional conference! I still keep in touch with folks that I met there, including my favorite career strategist Hannah Morgan and STC rising star leader Ben Woelk. Ben and Hannah are our keynote speakers for our March 2013 STC Philadelphia Metro Conference and are holding a half day workshop on Saturday. It pays to be well connected!

I consistently recommend joining and becoming an active member and volunteer leader in Toastmasters. Effective oral communication skills are a great asset… go to a meeting and widen your horizons.

Career strategist Hannah advises being your true authentic self, at work and at play. So Facebook with friends in the biz. You might earn a conference invitation, an invited speaker slot, or be in the right place at the right time! It’s not about who you know, it’s about who I know.

Follow the industry thought leaders on twitter and read their blogs. Who are the thought leaders? Find out by attending events, being a reader of industry articles, and doing a bit of research. For example, review this list of twitter handles of the 2012 STC International Summit presenters. Who blogged about the Summit? The 2012 STC International Summit blogs were covered in the Summit News post. It is likely that other events will have similar information.

Are you on twitter? If not, get there. Join the world on twitter (I am @barriebyron). Get started today. Then tweet about industry relevant topics.

Tip final: be engaged, stay engaged, and keep learning.

About Barrie Byron

Innovative information developer specializing in presenting complex ideas in ways that are clear and concise. Persistent optimist, intrepid adventurer, mentor. Builder of relationships, connecting friends and peers to people they want to know. Social duct tape and generator of goodwill. Follow me on twitter @barriebyron


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