Beginning writers trying to break into the field of technical writing face a paradox: almost all jobs require experience, but they can't get experience without first having a job.
In the past, I've recommended that beginning writers create documentation for any open-source project they can find, such as WordPress, Audacity, or projects on SourceForge.net. However, our organization now has about ten open source projects that would provide an ideal opportunity for entry-level writers to gain real experience in technical writing. These projects are located at https://tech.lds.org/wiki.
The open source projects are designed to allow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormons) to participate in some of the technical projects of the Church. However, you don't need to be Mormon to help out. In fact, not being Mormon may provide a more realistic technical writing experience, as you'll be working in a world of terms possibly unfamiliar to you.
In contrast to other open source projects, working on the open source projects at the LDS Tech Wiki will allow you to interact with designers, testers, developers, and project managers. You won't just be writing help documentation for a stagnant application coded long ago. Instead, you'll be able to create real documentation for a handful of active, interesting projects that you can showcase to employers.
What kind of projects are available? Here's a page where all the projects are listed. The projects include the following:
You can include any help materials you write for these applications in your portfolio. Trust me that a strong portfolio can trump years of experience as a technical writer. I landed my first job as a technical writer because I had a strong portfolio, which didn't even include any real technical writing projects. Imagine how persuasive your portfolio would be if you actually had several technical writing projects you could highlight and discuss.
If you're interested in getting involved, complete the requirements for participation. And then contact Tom Welch, the director in charge of these open source projects. (Alternatively, let me know and I'll point you in the right direction.)
If you're interested in learning more about the organization managing all of these open source projects, see Mormon.org, listen to audio at Mormon Radio, watch videos on the Mormon Channel on Youtube, or check out the resources at lds.org.
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.