Author Topic: Looking at a new career in technical writing  (Read 1942 times)

hhehe45

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Looking at a new career in technical writing
« on: December 05, 2019, 11:44:17 AM »
I’ve been thinking of switching careers for a while now. Am currently in the medical field and I’m bored, unfulfilled, and generally unhappy. Seeing patients and meeting new people all the time is not my forte and doesn’t suit my personality. I know next to nothing about technical writing but thought the idea of working independently and possibly even from home may be a better fit. Does anyone know anything about this field or how to go about checking into it? Any other career ideas for someone who wants to work independently and not so much with the public?

Watchmaker

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2019, 02:03:44 PM »
I know a couple people who work in technical writing. Both are in-house and work in an office. I'd say they both find their work boring and that seems to bother one while the other is happy to have straightforward, 9-5 work. I have no idea how representative they be of the larger field.

I went to Indeed and saw hundreds of technical writer jobs advertised, the first few I looked at required a bachelors degree but no specific training. Maybe apply for some? If you get an interview you can use it to try to figure out if you'd enjoy the work.

startingsmall

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2019, 02:23:48 PM »
I'm a veterinarian who is transitioning to medical writing.

Currently I still work part-time (15 hrs/wk) at a vet clinic, but I'm to about $50k/year in human/veterinary writing freelance work. I love it. So much more client appreciation, so much less hostility/drama, so much less "people-y."

Kronsey

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2019, 03:12:32 PM »
I’ve been thinking of switching careers for a while now. Am currently in the medical field and I’m bored, unfulfilled, and generally unhappy. Seeing patients and meeting new people all the time is not my forte and doesn’t suit my personality. I know next to nothing about technical writing but thought the idea of working independently and possibly even from home may be a better fit. Does anyone know anything about this field or how to go about checking into it? Any other career ideas for someone who wants to work independently and not so much with the public?

How far away are you from FIRE?

How does your current field pay compared to what you know about technical writing?

I'm in a similar position in that I do not love my chosen profession - accounting & taxes - but it pays me much better than I would be able to make doing most other things. My savings rate is to the point where it doesn't make sense to rock the boat (just let compounding interest do its thing).

Having said that, I am also self employed and have been able to drastically limit my working hours which has helped a bunch. Do you have the option to work less hours while still pursuing FI? I don't think I could do this career at a 60 hr per week clip which is pretty standard for busy season for accountants so I understand wanting to change if you have to work long hours while not being able to stomach the work.

Dave1442397

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2019, 04:57:30 PM »
We have a documentation department that has been cut from five to two people in the past few years. Those two really like what they do, although extracting meaningful information from computer programmers can be a chore.

Considering how few people can actually write coherent documentation, I'd say it's a good field to get into.

We need less of this:

Scotland2016

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2019, 05:23:11 PM »
I would love to do this. For various personal reasons, working in an office is becoming less feasible. I wonder how one goes about it?

hhehe45

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2019, 05:26:34 PM »
I'm a veterinarian who is transitioning to medical writing.

Currently I still work part-time (15 hrs/wk) at a vet clinic, but I'm to about $50k/year in human/veterinary writing freelance work. I love it. So much more client appreciation, so much less hostility/drama, so much less "people-y."

How were you able to transition into that? Did you just research the medical writing field or know someone who introduced you to it? This is an interesting idea to me and seems less daunting than completely changing careers.

startingsmall

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2019, 07:25:31 PM »
I'm a veterinarian who is transitioning to medical writing.

Currently I still work part-time (15 hrs/wk) at a vet clinic, but I'm to about $50k/year in human/veterinary writing freelance work. I love it. So much more client appreciation, so much less hostility/drama, so much less "people-y."

How were you able to transition into that? Did you just research the medical writing field or know someone who introduced you to it? This is an interesting idea to me and seems less daunting than completely changing careers.

I actually started off doing medical editing through edanzediting.com, because I heard of another veterinarian who had started working for them as a side hustle. From there I branched out to offering myself for freelance writing jobs on Upwork. Once I had some experience under my belt from Upwork, I started applying for regular writing jobs that I found in online job listings and professional journals. Currently I have a few ongoing clients that I write for on a regular basis, plus random additional projects that come to me through Upwork and LinkedIn.

The American Medical Writer's Association is a great place to start, if you're interested in more info on medical writing. There was a steep learning curve and some poorly-paid work on the front end, but it definitely paid off in my case. I now average more $/hr writing than I do working as a veterinarian.... and it's more enjoyable, something I can do on my own schedule, and something I can do in my PJ's. My goal is to step completely away from vet med in the next couple of years.

MaybeBabyMustache

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2019, 07:28:39 PM »
I was a technical writer as my first job out of college, and managed a team of tech writers & UX, LOC team member for a decade or so. All of our jobs were on site, and would continue to be, as you'd need to be reasonably embedded with the engineering team in order to be able to successfully understand the product features you're describing. Additionally, depending on how you're wired, I think the majority of people out there would find it pretty dry. To echo the comment of a previous poster, it could be super painful to extract information from engineers.

That said, some people have a real gift for making complicated things simple. If that's you, this could be a fit.

Cranky

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2019, 05:34:01 AM »
My dd is a technical writer at Epic Systems, and I know they hire lots of people with medical backgrounds. It's all onsite in Wisconsin, though, not remote.

ctuser1

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2019, 05:41:39 AM »
To echo the comment of a previous poster, it could be super painful to extract information from engineers

Coder here. I’ve also worked as management consultant for several years, where I was basically writing up pretty looking PowerPoint documents a plurality of my time. So I *think* I should be able to get both sides of the debate here.

There are two separate types of issues that can happen when you try to extract information out of engineers:
1. Some engineers like to be the “key parson” and resist sharing knowledge. This is surprisingly common. It’s a wider culture problem of such behavior can survive in the organization. There is no good, win-win solution here that you can implement strictly within your tech writer role. You need to try to do the best of a bad situation here.
2. Some engineers are just frustrated at being asked to dumb down the complex trade-offs they make every day to such a degree that it becomes misleading. Just yesterday, I took a decision that increased the risk of failure in our system dramatically in the short run, only to make sure I can de-risk the eventual, big release next week. An engineer will likely take that kind of decision, with varying degree of impact, very frequently. I sometimes find it deeply frustrating to have to paraphrase every sentence of the ‘status report’ or ‘run book’ or ‘usage guide’ when a non-technical project manager is assigned to our project. It is much easier dealing with a PM or tech writer who had a technical background.

Relevant to the OP, to do really good as a technical writer, you either need some technical background in the domain or be very quick to learn.

hhehe45

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2019, 06:13:04 AM »
Thanks everyone for your input. Not sure if this is the right move for me but I’ve got a lot of researching to do.

Arian

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2019, 06:04:18 AM »
I do some freelance editing work in my old field (scientific, not medicine) for a company similar to the one that startingsmall mentioned above, and I know that they have freelance medical editing/writing work. So, its definitely an area that exists.

I personally don't find the work dry because I enjoy reading about the latest research in my old field. However, I do find it a bit isolating because I work at home and I prefer working alongside people, but this downside sounds like it may be an upside for you.   

@startingsmall: I hope you don't mind me asking, but when you started on Upwork/ working for private clients, did you get any sort of insurance or do anything to protect your assets? I'd love to break away from agency-type work, but I'm terrified of being sued or things going wrong. Thank you. 

startingsmall

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2019, 06:11:28 AM »

@startingsmall: I hope you don't mind me asking, but when you started on Upwork/ working for private clients, did you get any sort of insurance or do anything to protect your assets? I'd love to break away from agency-type work, but I'm terrified of being sued or things going wrong. Thank you.

I did not. I've considered looking into it from time to time, but haven't ever done it.

I have veterinary malpractice insurance, which states "Coverage automatically extends to veterinary-related activities such as speech making, consulting, clinical instructing, and serving as a member of a licensing or veterinary accreditation board." Therefore, I assume all of my veterinary writing work would be covered. I do very little non-veterinary work, so I've decided I'm okay with that right now. 

I also have an umbrella policy. Not sure if that would be at all helpful in this situation, but I've decided that the malpractice + umbrella is good enough for me right now.

ETA: I did a quick Google search and this was one of the first things that turned up (excuse the weird formatting issues and chunk of missing text at the end of page 1, but I think you can still get the idea!)
 http://www.amwacarolinas.org/files/Professional%20Liability%20Insurance%20for%20Freelance%20Medical%20Wri..pdf
« Last Edit: December 10, 2019, 06:44:55 AM by startingsmall »

Malcat

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2019, 06:22:55 AM »
Another medical professional/former researcher here considering doing more writing work, so I'm following with interest.

Arian

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #15 on: December 10, 2019, 06:50:29 AM »
Thank you @startingsmall for your quick reply. I should have realised that you would have had malpractice insurance as part of your veterinary work. I'll have to look into getting some sort of business insurance and start looking for some private clients. Thanks again! :)

Car Jack

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Re: Looking at a new career in technical writing
« Reply #16 on: December 10, 2019, 07:47:23 AM »
I've done a lot of technical writing in the past and sort of hate doing it.  I'm an engineer with lots of design experience who had spelling and grammar drilled into him during a required college project.  I've only done this from the inside as part of my job where my technical abilities were first demonstrated, then assumed.  I wrote application notes for new ICs coming out.  This included building circuits in the lab to demonstrate that the thing did what it was supposed to, then write about the IC, write about how to design with it, write up procedures with equations derived, then re-write with numbers.  A typical applications note start to finish took 6 months.  I've written a bunch of smaller design notes that are short.  Maybe 4 pages.  These are less rigorous but still must be technically relevant.  All my stuff has been electrical hardware based.  All semi companies have applications engineers who do this. 

On the medical side, my wife is a nurse and worked in utilization review, moving to training.  She literally wrote the book that case managers use today.  I guess that's technical, medical writing.  Again, in depth industry knowledge is key.  You don't just write about this stuff out of the blue. 

I wouldn't quit my day job and start looking for a job in technical writing.  See if there are ways to use your current background and strengths to start writing.