Tips for staying current as a technical writer

Staying current is one of the most important things you can do as a contract technical writer.

If you know the latest tools and technologies, or at least know of them and can learn quickly, you’re much more valuable as a contractor. And being “in the know” is fun!

Here are some of the ways I stay current:

1. Read widely.

I love reading – fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, Weet-Bix packets. But also the instructions that come with the things I buy, such as the printer, camera, and food processor. Anything that exposes me to new ideas or ways of doing things. Reading widely also gives me interesting things to talk about with clients, which makes me memorable, and more likely to get the next project.

2. Take online classes and webinars.

The internet has become the world’s largest classroom, offering a wealth of free learning opportunities. You can learn about the specific tools you use. For example, I’m a regular user of Flare, and discovered that MadCap provide free webinars and demos online. Or you can attend webinars about emerging technologies. I recently attended one by Aptara on the creation of ebooks. Look around. You’ll be surprised at what you can find for free or a nominal fee.

3. Subscribe to blogs.

Obviously blogs are a great way to find out what other technical writers are doing. Tom Johnson writes a popular blog called I’d Rather Be Writing. I also like to read blogs about writing, marketing, productivity, and technology. Lifehacker is one of my favorites for hearing about new software.

4. Participate in networking groups and forums.

Networking groups are an invaluable source of information. These can be groups you join online, such as groups on LinkedIn, or local groups that you meet for coffee. I admit I’m a bit of a lurker when it comes to groups online, but even if you don’t join in the conversation, you can learn so much by listening in. Locally, our tech writers group meets about once a month, and we exchange stories about our current projects, challenges we’re facing, and opportunities.

5. Sign up for continuing education classes.

As well as staying on top of the tools, I think it’s important to continue working on your writing. Taking writing classes through the local university keeps my writing fresh, and gives me the chance to meet other local writers. Of course, writing is just one subject of many. If you’d rather try something different, like woodworking, go for it!

6. Attend conferences.

If you’ve never been to a professional conference, I can highly recommend them. With sessions on new tools, processes, and ways they’ve been implemented – you can’t go wrong. And conferences are a great way to grow your network.

How do you stay current?

Photo via Flickr user charmaineharrison3105

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