Udemy recently invited me to try their online course, Learn Technical Writing & Make an Average of $67,910 a Year. As the name suggests, the course is aimed at those who are new to technical writing or who are considering making technical writing their career.
Well-known technical author Dr Ugur Akinci developed the course and provides the audio narration. While I often wished that he wasn’t simply reading the slides, I very much liked his tone: warm, confident, supportive.
What’s in the course
There’s a lot of material here: about four hours of video — slide presentations with audio narration — plus several pages of material in PDF format. Students are also expected to complete a practical assignment: writing a technical document about a subject of their choosing. Dr. Akinci promises to personally review every assignment and provide feedback.
You’ll find basic guidance on writing and editing techniques like using active voice, avoiding anthropomorphism, and striving for consistency. There’s sound instruction on setting up templates, creating useful tables, and working with graphics. The content may be basic, but it’s well presented with lots of examples.
There’s also a nice lesson about how to write and follow a doc plan, a topic that’s close to my heart.
What’s not in the course and should be
The course starts by briefly describing technical writing and comparing it to other kinds of writing (like poetry, fiction, and journalism) in terms of income potential. Next, the course describes the components of a technical document. In this area I think the course falls short in two ways.
First, a disproportionate amount of time is spent describing document elements — like table of contents, front matter, and list of revisions — that are of relatively minor importance and that entry-level technical writers (the audience for the course) often have no influence over.
Second, the course centers almost all its attention on one document type: the printed user guide. Throughout the course, very little mention is made of more modern formats like interactive help systems or even quick reference guides. Most demonstrations are done using Microsoft Word. We don’t see, or hear mention of, tools like FrameMaker, Flare, or the structured-authoring editors.
In what might be an attempt to address this problem, a section at the end titled Updates provides a couple of lectures about RoboHelp 2015. Still, I’d rather see more mention of non-print media — and examples using other tools besides Word — throughout the whole course, not just added at the end.
I was also disappointed that the introductory sections made no mention of the primacy of writing for an audience. Throughout the whole course, the emphasis is on producing a document (an attractive, usable document, to be sure) rather than on analyzing the audience and creating information that fits the audience’s context and helps them complete a task.
If we’re training people who are brand new to the profession, let’s start them off right: emphasizing that the audience is central to what we do, and showing that technical communication ranges far beyond printed manuals.
If you or someone you know is new to the field and want a sense of what it’s like to work in technical writing, this course is probably a good starting point. You’ll hear a lot of support and encouragement as you work your way through the lessons.
Understand, however, that there’s much more to working in technical communication than what you’ll learn here.
On the other hand, the opportunity to complete an assignment and have it personally reviewed by Dr. Akinci might, by itself, be worth the price of the course.
If you decide to buy
If you decide to try the course, use coupon code 50OFFTW to receive a 50 percent discount off the price. Other than being given free access to the course, I received no compensation or other considerations for writing this review.