Volunteering: A Great Way to Start Your Technical Writing Career

Volunteer with your chapter

Volunteer with your chapter

One of the challenges of finding work in technical writing is that many posted positions require at least three years of experience. Building up experience through volunteer work is a key way of breaking into the field. It will also help you develop a portfolio.

When I started thinking about putting together a portfolio, I knew I wanted to have a wide range of writing samples. I began researching ways that I could gain experience through volunteering and found that there were many options to choose from.

Writing  Articles

Here are two ways I built up my portfolio by writing online articles:

  1. Getting involved with the Society for Technical Communication
    • I volunteered to write online articles for the Society for Technical Communication, Canada West Coast chapter. I was able to get invaluable feedback on my writing and gain experience writing for the web.
  2. Offering my skills to non-profit organizations
    • Through United Nations Volunteers, I began writing for Grace Foundation – Nigeria. I started by writing and collating their e-forum report, and I’m now writing their inaugural newsletter.
    • I also began writing online articles for What’s Your Impact, a Montreal-based organization that provides information on climate change, sustainability, and local efforts to reduce environmental impact.

Completing Project-Based Writing Projects

As part of the Technical Communication program at Simon Fraser University, I completed a final project that involved producing a professional user manual. I decided to seek out a practicum with a non-profit organization where I could utilize my skills and obtain relevant, practical experience in technical writing.

I ended up working with the curator of the Vancouver Police Museum to produce an archive management policies and procedures manual. It was an excellent experience, as I was able to gain hands-on experience and skills in interviewing a subject matter expert. I also learned how to organize this newly acquired knowledge into a usable format. At the end of the practicum, I had a polished portfolio piece and a good initial grasp of the process and practice of technical writing.


Autumn JonssenAugust 18, 2014 at 12:44 pmReply

Thanks for your article, Michelle! Volunteering is a great way to build your portfolio and network. When I was establishing my technical communication career, approximately 25% of my projects as a freelancer resulted from working with people in a volunteer capacity. Those projects contributed to my overall experience which helped me get my current position.

Michelle VinciSeptember 2, 2014 at 7:36 pmReply

Thanks for the kind comment, Autumn! Volunteering is a powerful way of establishing a career in technical communication, and a great way of networking with different people. My portfolio also helped me get my first contract this past summer, which further enabled me to gain experience in the field.