On writing

How techical writing resumes are a lot like query letters

Although my work title is still officially, ‘Technical Writer’, that’s only because no-one has yet come back to me and said, “Hey, when was the last time you did any technical writing?”

“Um, about five years ago.”

Nowadays I’m more of a cross between a developer—back to my roots—and a user interface person. I work in a graphic design team. I’m not necessarily the person you’d choose to design your website, but I’m a good person to build a site someone else has designed, and in my team we have three good designers so I get to dabble in the fun, back-end technical stuff which I enjoy.

Last night, though, I was thinking about query letters, and about my time as the team leader of a technical writing team.

One of my jobs in that role was to go through the resumes and select people we’d interview for any technical writing jobs.

[Note: Yes, I have deliberately left the acute accents off the e’s on résumé (é). It is, technically, a typo, but getting them to display properly on everyone’s browser is a pain, so I have left it as resume.]

Most of the applicants came through agencies.

I don’t know if you’ve had anything to do with job applications from agencies, but the first thing the agency normally does is rewrite the applicant’s resume to fit their own standards, which is the last thing you want when you’re trying to assess a technical writer’s suitability for a position. So much so that I always asked to see the applicant’s original resume as well as the agency version.


Because the resume tells you a lot about the person writing it. Does it look clean and tidy? Is it spaced out well or crammed together on the first half of one page? Is the spelling and grammar correct? You’d be surprised how many spelling and grammar issues were introduced when the agency rewrites someone’s resume. (Or maybe you wouldn’t.)

More importantly, did the applicant use styles in Word or did they manually style every heading? Have they used styles consistently? These things may sound trivial, but if the writer does it wrong, it doubles the rework and makes documentation much harder to manage.

Is it easy to read?

Can they actually write?

It’s a lot like querying really. If you don’t write your own query letter to a prospective agent/publisher, how are they to assess what your writing is really like?

Yes, most of us write terrible query letters. But it’s still your own writing, and it says a lot about you.

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