What is a Day in the Life of a Technical Writer Really Like?

This might or might not make it into the book, but it might set the table for an early chapter. The reality is, depending on what you do and where and for whom, your daily routine can be anything from actually routine to something different every day. My experience has been closer to the latter. Part of that is just the nature of technical communication, so I’ll share a couple different scenarios for your consideration.

Typical Day #1: Proposal Writer in a Large Organization

If you’ve got a specific title in a large organization, you can usually expect the majority of your work content to be proposal-related. That doesn’t mean you spend every day sitting at your desk writing or editing content in response to government or business requests for proposals (RFPs). You might start each day with a standing meeting of the business development staff and management. Or you might drop by your immediate supervisor’s office to see what the day’s priorities are. You might have multiple proposals cooking at the same time or one big one. However, it’s usually a good idea to check in with someone just to make certain you’re focused on the right thing. Sometimes it helps to show up early to check emails to see if there’s anything urgent.

Meetings can produce changes and action items. So before you get down to writing or editing, you might have to make some phone calls to follow up on a request from your manager (“Did our approach change on X? Did the hardware change on Y?”). You might have a new assignment on top of your other work that requires you to pause and outline your immediate tasks and timeline and factor those into your calendar before going ahead.

Finally you get through the new tasks. It’s time to write, right? Maybe. You might be stuck on a paragraph because you’re waiting on inputs from a subject-matter expert (SME). You might need to incorporate conflicting inputs from different SMEs. You might need to do more research before you write about the historical context of the hardware/service your company is proposing.

Early in the proposal process, you might be attending meetings to discuss technical and management approach, roles and responsibilities, open items, research tasks, proposal timeline, etc.

During or after proposal reviews, you might sit in a room with a group of managers as they go through your proposal line by line to tell you what they like and what needs fixing. Then you discuss the changes with your team and then proceed to make them.

As you get closer to production, you might be spending the day assembling books (the government sometimes requests hard copies in three-ring binders). That means creating section tabs, collating copies, catching and fixing last-minute errors, boxing up the binders, and delivering them to your local express courier or the actual government office. Once that proposal is out the door, you head back to the office, relax for a moment, then check your to-do list to see when the next proposal is due.

Typical Day #2: Chief of Communications in a Small Business

As the sole communicator in a small engineering business, “typical” days likewise are a matter of interpretation. A given day might include proposals, marketing fact sheets, press releases, white papers, technical process documentation, company social media posts, or website content. In short, as the communications lead for a small business, you might be it: writer, editor, researcher, public relations, engineering “translator,” and style guide creator.

In a small organization, you’re also likely to know most of the players and decision makers, so decisions are made more quickly. You might, in fact, all share the same office space. On the downside, being “it” means you don’t necessarily have a backup editor to check your work or consult with about a communications question. The joy and the hurt of it is that the decisions are yours.

Typical Day #3: Freelance Technical Writer

Now it’s all on you. You don’t just represent a business, you are the business, selling your products or services to a range of customers that you must determine based on your experiences and preferences. You might have one big client or multiple clients that require equal time and attention.

Are you on the clock during “regular” business hours (9-5)? Are your clients operating across multiple time zones? Do your customers’ hours really matter if you’re a night owl and producing your content over the graveyard shift? All of those are, to some extent, your choice. You might have to work on site at your customer’s place of work or you could work from home or a coworking space.

You might have zero work coming in for a week straight or three of your clients might want your attention at once. You might be doing instructional design for one customer, a proposal for a second customer, and a white paper for a third, all working in different industries. The brain gear-shifting and the hours can be brutal. Or you might have your life set so you can work when you want, run errands when you want, and still be available to help your kids with their homework when they get home from school. The marketing work is yours, though, and you might find yourself very much alone when it comes to setting your rates, negotiating with your clients, or settling disputes (though you can hire an accountant or lawyer if you can afford it).

Freelance life means you must be master of your time, to some extent, especially if you have multiple clients and overlapping tasks or deadlines. You must exhibit diplomacy as you balance conflicting requirements.

Again, the decisions are yours.

How’s that for a “typical day?”

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
Quote | This entry was posted in careers, clients, freelancing, meetings, technical writing, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

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