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Advice? from me? 

I was asked for career advice last week. It came as a bit of a shock, since I have trouble thinking of myself as a veteran on the basketball court, much less one in my career. And I was tempted to say that my career path consisted of floundering around looking for something that would let me live in Montana while still being relatively fun and/or profitable.

But this fellow was a fulltime journalist looking to become a freelancer focusing on business writing. And I realized I did have some opinions. Here's what I said:

Journalism experience provides two great skills for business writing: 1) research and note-taking, 2) writing quickly. In effect I generally end up "interviewing" experts and writing down what they say. Turns out that while many of them are brilliant, when it comes to putting together a complete sentence, either they can't or it takes them forever. They'll compliment me on a great piece of writing when all I did was put what they said into complete written sentences. I've learned not to be overly modest about that -- it's a valuable skill.

But some of the philosophies you learn as a journalist -- skepticism, attribution, the notion that you work for the reader rather than the source -- are useless or even counterproductive to businesses. They may actually fear muckrakers -- what they need are very smart stenographers. (And many journalists can't get over the notion that there's something wrong with that. I say there isn't.)

A few paths I might suggest:
1) Take a course in business writing. Make sure it's taught by someone who's not merely a literature professor. You want to gain experience with the types of assignments business writers have, and their mindset.
2) Join the Society for Technical Communication, if they have a local chapter. Though expensive, it's good networking.
3) Do some work for free. Find a worthy nonprofit and volunteer to write for them -- not newspaper articles, but -- brochures, meeting minutes, "How to use our services," annual reports, etc. You can show these to future clients to demonstrate that you can write what they want written.

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