Weird things I saw when I was a contract technical writer

alex-kotliarskyi-361081-unsplashI’ve been out of full-time contracting for almost two years and recently thought back to some of the stranger things I saw during the contract technical writer chapter of my life:

  • A fellow contractor was posting nude pictures of his wife on Usenet from his client account. He was busted and walked offsite by armed security guards when a Usenet reader emailed the Webmaster of the client’s domain.
  • A client who demanded the word, Please be used to begin every procedure in a user guide.
  • Contract agency recruiters who just told so many obvious lies I wondered if their nose grew. There should be a special place in hell for unethical contract agency recruiters.
  • A contractor who got sick and went AWOL while on a business trip to NYC. The contracting agency had to evict her from her hotel room. After taking over her hotel room, I could understand how she would want to lay in bed all day in that hotel.
  • A contractor who inflated their resume so much it made me see the problems that swept along technical writers and swept along trainers cause for real professionals.
  • A contractor who quit via email the Sunday evening before leaving Monday on a trip to Los Angeles. He knew the whole time he was going to stop. While I understand At-Will Employment cuts both ways, there is professionalism and decency.

Once upon a time, contractors could always count on other contractors. I stayed too long at the party. The contracting market I entered was not the same one I left.

What weird things did you see as a contract technical writer?

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

Reflections on my technical writing career

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I was once asked in a job interview: “Why do I stay a technical writer when it must be such a dull and boring profession?”  After the meeting when I was peeling rubber out of the parking lot, I took a few moments when I was decelerating to think about some of the more interesting moments (at least to me) from my career:

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My advice to junior technical writers

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Much of my technical writing career has been spent working in the trenches directly with technical teams. Unfortunately, this means I don’t know any junior technical writers anymore.

I’ve seen a lot in my time as a technical writer, and if I did advise new or junior technical writers, it would be the following:

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Does it take a community to document a technical issue?

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The technical writer profession takes it on the chin sometimes. So much so, community-based technical documentation – user forums, wikis, blogs, and other social media – is becoming a go-to source for technical documentation and training. On how to perform technical tasks and thus to open another front for criticism on the traditional role of the technical writer.

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An alternative perspective about taking meeting minutes

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I was talking to a recruiter once who asked me how I felt about taking meeting minutes. The first thing I said was “I think meeting minutes are overrated because I’ve rarely if ever seen them consulted again by meeting participants. When is the last time you consulted meeting minutes after a meeting was over?” While we both laughed about my response, I was quite serious and didn’t know how serious I was myself until well after the call was over.

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Simple guidelines for running technical document reviews remotely

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With some clear expectations and a little planning upfront, running remote writing and document review projects can go smoothlyHere are some lessons I learned when I was a freelancer about running remote writing and editing projects:

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12 truths you learn as a contract technical writer

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Working as a contract technical writer like I did earlier in my career can teach a lot of life lessons and illuminate a lot of truths into human nature. I’ve seen a lot working with commercial, Federal, non-profit, and non-governmental organizations.

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