Writing What You Don’t Know: Industrial Writing

Cheyenne Taylor

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As English majors, we are used to having to carve out our niches everywhere. Birmingham, though, holds many opportunities for writers, one of which many may not consider: industrial writing. The booming steel age that gave the Magic City its name may have died down, but Birmingham is still home to many industries—like coal mines, steel mills, machine shops, construction companies, and more—that need some PR, too. These companies need writers to create trade magazine articles about their services and to write content for their websites. But wait, you might say, I’ve never written for engineers! I don’t even know there was a difference between an Arc weld and a TIG weld; how am I supposed to write anything for heavy industry?

Conveyor Manufacturing Shop Put Yourself Out There!

Don’t turn down an opportunity to write for a field just because you haven’t written for it before—how else are you supposed to learn? While many companies will want to hire writers with specialized knowledge, many others are happy to have someone who knows how to communicate effectively in writing. One great way to prepare is to create a portfolio—you don’t have to wait for a job to get a writing sample under your belt. Gather together some examples of writing you’re proud of. Then, when an opportunity comes along, you’ll have something to show your prospective employer, even if it doesn’t pertain to their exact industry or field.

Do Your Own Research

So you got the job—but how do you approach your new subject? Your employers are likely to provide you with much of the core, specific information you will need, but you may be unfamiliar with the tone to take, the level of formality needed, or other particulars of writing for this field. Trade magazines are a great way to get familiar with the type of writing you’ll need to do; try to find a few that focus on your employer’s industry and read through several articles to get a good feel for the approach you should take. A Google search or databases like WebWire’s Publications by Industry List can help. Gathering information about audience, tone, and, length from the websites of companies that do similar work can also be very helpful, as long as you don’t plagiarize any content (which, of course, you know not to do). Tap into those skills you’ve gained through writing research papers; they’ll translate well!

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out to the Experts

Sometimes you simply need to have a concept explained to you. Ask your employers to suggest some resources, and don’t be afraid to let them know when you don’t understand something fully. They want you to produce the best work possible, and that means they should be more than willing to walk you through how a product, machine, or service works. Sometimes you will go through multiple drafts with a member of the company just to get your verbs right or to describe a mechanism in just the right way. Don’t take anything personally. Be open, honest, and eager to learn about your employer’s industry (they’ll probably enjoy the opportunity to teach someone about what they do, too!).

Writing on an unfamiliar subject can be daunting, but is a very rewarding experience. Challenging yourself in this way can open you up to many new paths and opportunities. Whether for heavy industry or another field you are unfamiliar with, keep these tips in mind and don’t be afraid to take on something new.

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