How to become a technical writer – Confessions of a former translator

A former translator, I worked the first seven years of my professional life in the translation industry, in various positions. While I learned a lot from this experience, it also left me, as a writer, frustrated. Translators are chained to their source text and writing the words of others in another language, usually focusing on what their clients want.

Don’t let your translation teacher tell you otherwise. For practical reasons, most of your clients will not appreciate a target-oriented translation approach (even if it is the right one, yes). A localized text needs to fit the same way its source text does on a website, a PowerPoint, a software, etc., and it usually doesn’t if you take liberties in your translation. Well, it doesn’t necessarily even if you remain close to the source but that is another story.

Lucie Le Naour, former translatorLucie Le NaourOne level up before localization, technical writing offers another way of writing more (if not entirely) focused on the reader. If your readers don’t understand what you mean, they won’t be able to use your product or, worst-case scenario, will injure themselves with it. Yes, if you’re selling jigsaws with poorly written manuals to go with them, that might well happen! I learned that the hard way in my class about the basics of technical writing. Anyways. It is this writing approach that made me want to change career earlier this year. I wanted to write something useful and usable, with my own voice.

A few months younger and naïve me tried at first applying directly for technical writing jobs thinking “how hard can it be to be a technical writer after being a technical translator for years?”. Well it is pretty hard actually. After multiple rejections, I understood that technical writers do not work with the same tools technical translators do and I knew none of these tools. I also knew nothing about designing a documentation and quickly came to the realization that I’d have to learn anew. Which also seemed pretty appealing in the end!

After some research, it appeared that the place to go to for all information pertaining to technical writing is the tekom, the German and European association for technical communication. Thanks to their website I was able to find a two-year traineeship with parson AG.

It’s been three months I’ve been working here and I do not regret leaving the translation industry one bit. Getting to know and research all the products for which you write documentations and the degree of quality and precision required at every production step of a documentation is refreshing. Moreover, I still get to use my foreign languages English and German since you do not need to be a native speaker to write technical documentation (also my mother tongue is pretty much dead at this point).

If you happen to be a translator looking for a career change, I can only hope reading this article will inspire you to jump ship and hey maybe even join us! You should anyways, we have cookies here.* And no one minds if you want to wear an aggressively red hat indoors when it’s cold outside.

*Note from Uta, online Editor at parson: Not only do we have cookies, we also have a sweet dog (Molly), lovely red cups that travel (check this out), and excellent espresso.

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