Becoming a Remote Technical Writer
I’m the first to admit that my path to technical writing was somewhat unconventional. My degree was in International Studies, and after flirting with a career in politics (let’s not discuss how that went), it became clear that a change was needed.
Thankfully, my studies had armed me with extensive writing experience and I also had a deep fascination with software, hardware, and all things tech. Over four years later, with ample technical articles under my belt, I now humbly introduce myself as a technical writer. As I often like to joke, I’ve truly become a professional nerd and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I’ve had a blast writing for clients in the spaces of software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). One-off gigs have transformed into long-term relationships, audiences have grown more diverse, and my written content has traversed the spectrum of technical depth. These experiences ultimately led me to Draft.dev, where many of my content requests now stem from.
Draft.dev is a technical marketing content agency for startups. The organization is made up of a knowledgeable group of writers, editors, and leaders that oversee writing projects from start to finish. The awesome folks at Draft.dev create personalized, monthly content plans for tech companies, in this way building strong business relationships, too.
While I enjoy my work as a technical writer, I’ve definitely experienced my fair share of challenges. In this article, I’ll share my experience, as well as some tips to help you improve and succeed in your technical writing.
Make Sure You Enjoy the Content
Technical writing has a reputation for being a little dry (compared to copywriting, for example), and that can certainly be true at times. Technical articles typically focus on the facts and present them in a regimented manner.
You could be writing a step-by-step software guide, a platform comparison, or breaking down and explaining a piece of tech. Instead of moving your readers emotionally, your goal is to communicate complex information clearly and succinctly. This usually leaves less room for “color” or personality, though it isn’t always the case (more on that soon).
What can help immensely in this regard is having a thorough understanding and enjoyment of the topics you’ll be writing about. Ideally, the subject matter will be exciting and motivate you to continue from one sentence to the next.
It’s also true that you might not be in the mood to produce content on certain days. However, tackling topics that spark joy can help you write more sharply and maintain productivity. That’s even more important in a remote role, where you’re expected to be self-motivated.
Consider Your Audience
Technical writing exposes you to all kinds of readers. You might be catering to developers, IT administrators, CTOs, and even non-technical folks in some cases. This is especially true when working with content agencies like Draft.dev. Different companies will have different content goals and the content you write will therefore target diverse groups of specific interests—they might be in the trenches coding or making decisions at the helm.
Matching your article’s voice and technical depth to the intended readership will help you make the most impact. While a manager might care about delivering business value, a developer might prioritize efficiency and ease of use. Reader personas can therefore diverge, and your writing needs to address the target audience each time.
Even when writing for specific audiences though, you should keep in mind that readers might possess varying degrees of technical knowledge. You can’t presuppose their level of familiarity with the topic, for example when it comes to acronyms or even additional sources of information. Best practice dictates that, for the former, you should spell things out the first time they’re presented, while for the latter, you should point readers to supplemental documentation or other pages, as doing so can help boost their engagement.
When it comes to writing for more general audiences, you’ll often be tasked with striking a balance between making information both approachable and educational; you have to be aware of when you need to simplify your language, and where digging deeper into the nitty gritty is appreciated. You don’t want to alienate your readers but you also don’t want to bore them.
This is where working remotely can present a challenge. You might not have immediate access to clients, engineers, or teammates, and learning about your audience and objectives might take additional time as you communicate more passively via email or a messaging platform.
As a rule, it’s always worth requesting a target audience brief with each assignment. It’s also helpful to have the company’s style guide handy, if they have one. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and request more resources.
Organization and Efficiency are Key
I mentioned that technical articles should be regimented, but what exactly does that mean? Consider a user guide, for example, where you’re explaining how to configure and deploy Kubernetes. While experienced developers may be skimming the guide to double-check they’ve got the process right, less experienced readers will need you to direct them in a step-by-step manner. The two types of readers will be reading the article in different ways, and it’s important to accommodate both styles of consumption.
In this regard, readers also benefit from having the information presented to them strategically. For example, on longer pieces, consider offering a table of contents with clickable links. This allows novices to start at the very beginning, while experienced readers can quickly jump to the sections most relevant to them. It’s also very helpful to use descriptive headers. They break up content visually, add hierarchy (crucial for scanning), and help the reader transition between subtopics.
Technical readers usually don’t appreciate when writers beat around the bush through excessive wordiness or irrelevance to the key topic of the article. Try your best to remove the fluff and structure articles in logical ways. Be respectful of your readers’ time; they’ll love you for it.
Similarly, adding media like images and videos can boost the readability of your text: code blocks, diagrams, and header images can provide context to sections. Meanwhile, GitHub repositories and other resources are not only important for a good reading experience, they are also critical when you’re trying to move readers through multiple technical articles, or direct them to documentation. A good technical writer will offer readers multiple pathways through which they can bolster their knowledge on a given topic. It’s generally good to avoid “dead ends.”
Stay on Top of Trends
Writing articles regularly is a surefire way to hone your skills, but building knowledge of your industry is another way to remain sharp. You’ll be able to understand emerging topics more readily and be more able to formulate article pitches, if that’s part of your responsibilities. It can also help you uncover valuable, citable sources of information.
Similarly, it might be helpful to follow tech industry experts on LinkedIn, Medium, and other platforms. These authoritative voices can offer a wealth of knowledge: they can point you to resources or even make themselves available for conversations if you ask politely.
Part of what makes the industry so strong is its sense of community. You can capitalize on this and even use that buzz as inspiration to keep going.
Embrace Challenges and Put Yourself Out There
It’s hard to grow as a remote writer if you aren’t willing to tackle new topics. In other words, sticking squarely to a niche keeps you one-dimensional as a writer. It’s also an express route to burnout.
Conversely, taking on diverse articles helps stave off the monotony that can arise from writing many lengthy articles. Most of my own articles have encompassed topics that were, at the time of assignment, completely foreign to me.
Branching out can also help make you more marketable to new clients. One of my strongest selling points has been my portfolio. While I can talk all day about topics I’m willing to work on, there’s nothing like demonstrating that aptitude directly.
Make sure you save your articles, and keep a viewable record of your exact works (provided that’s okay with your contract terms). Maintaining a personal website or even a shareable folder in Google Drive are two popular options for doing so. It allows you to funnel potential clients to one central place where they can read what you’ve written.
Diversity is also important for gaining exposure to different content types. It’s important to take on a wide range of assignments and challenge yourself to complete projects that might be unfamiliar and therefore initially harder to tackle. So write that user guide. Collaborate on that white paper. Don’t shy away from taking on your first industry report, or penning your first set of release notes. This is an exciting way to expand your skillset.
Finally, seek open roles and don’t be afraid to apply. Short-term projects are great, as are long-term arrangements. Choose what works best for you. Keep in mind, however, that forging long-standing partnerships with a number of clients is a great way to prove that you’re dependable. It also offers greater financial stability, which isn’t anything to sneeze at in the freelancing realm.
Pro tip: When applying, make sure to include a cover letter for a technical writer position so you can showcase your capabilities and show how you can be a good fit.
My Experience as a Remote Technical Writer
I’m thrilled to say that my time as a technical writer has been incredibly positive. It’s also been quite the journey. My exposure to different topics has grown exponentially over time, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people the world over. I’ve harnessed many digital communications channels and productivity tools, and operated within different content production processes.
I’ve absolutely faced challenges. I’ve taken on new topics and struggled to come up with words. Making errors along the way—both grammatical and technical—has ironically been essential to improving. I always try to treat each project as a learning experience. Learning how to take constructive criticism in stride, and navigating the infamous writer–editor relationship (don’t worry, they don’t bite) have been critical.
My experience with Draft.dev in particular has been great. Everyone I’ve worked with has been incredibly responsive, helpful, and understanding when unforeseen circumstances have interfered with projects. The writing process has been clear and consistent. As with many clients, I’ll receive a brief with every assignment that describes the audience and the client while providing a short synopsis. Detailed outlines are always provided (so I’m not starting from scratch), as are linked resources for citations.
Communication is quick when you have to bounce ideas or questions off the team and the editing process isn’t overbearing. The team is quick to offer technical information and genuine assistance through revisions. It’s also easy to fit assignments within my own schedule. This hasn’t always been my experience, so it’s a refreshing change of pace. I’d absolutely recommend Draft.dev as a place to get one’s agency feet wet.
As you can see, becoming a remote technical writer requires a strategic approach. You should be mindful of your audience, your clients, and your own level of comfort when tackling new assignments. Write with care and mindfulness towards your reader. Technical writing takes plenty of time to become skillful at. Being patient and open-minded will work wonders for your career.
Are you looking for reliable and exciting work? I strongly encourage you to give the folks at Draft.dev a shout. There’s no shortage of opportunities, and you can work at your own pace, and according to your availability. The team is fantastic to work with and excels at remote collaboration. The writing process is simple, and you’ll feel supported every step of the way.