Some of the best freelance writing jobs are specialized tasks, such as technical writing work, medical or legal transcription, or work in the arts, architecture, or music. The one serious challenge with these jobs, though, is that most freelancers don’t necessarily know the full array of vocabulary necessary to complete these jobs. Though they may be interested in the field or have some background knowledge, technical language skills are often acquired in the course of the job.
If you’re considering taking on a new job that requires technical language skills or find yourself flustered in your current role, you may need to take a more proactive approach to enhancing your vocabulary knowledge – luckily, there are lots of strategies that can help you gain mastery.
These 4 techniques have proven to help language learners in a variety of fields, and they can work for you.
Reading widely is the best way to learn new vocabulary, and this applies to everyone from young children to experts in their field. When you read relevant texts of increasing difficulty, you’re exposed to the language you need in context. That informs how you use that language when you write.
In fact, the context is exactly what makes reading so valuable; when people study words independently of context – say by pairing them with definitions on flashcards – they tend to use those words in awkward or inappropriate ways when it’s time to apply them. Reading the words and seeing them used properly, again and again, circumvents this kind of error.
If you’re struggling to read technical documents without knowing the accompanying vocabulary, read them alongside a field glossary, like this glossary of UX terms. Combining learning strategies and sourcing your terms from experts can help you navigate the text.
Use Visual Cues
Flash cards may not be useful for learning technical vocabulary, but if you work in the arts or another visually-oriented field then they do have their uses. For example, many freelance writers who work for museums or galleries need to be able to identify artists or artistic periods using visual cues.
The same concept applies to fashion or commercial jewelry writers; their niche language is distinctly visual. If you’re going to write about Art Deco, Victorian, or Edwardian rings for sales purposes, you need to be able to identify their key features without looking up each individual item. Flashcards with visuals, traits related to the style, and important designers or manufacturers can help create the necessary associations to write fluently.
Take A Class
No matter how good you are at learning new skills or vocabulary, some things aren’t meant to be learned independently and trying to do so can factually compromise what you write and publish. For example, if you’re working for a law firm or otherwise addressing legal issues but never went to law school, you may find the density of the texts or the deeper nuances of the vocabulary impossible to grasp. There’s a reason it takes years of education to become a lawyer.
Related: 50 Online Courses for Writers
Depending on your area’s regulations on legal copywriting, you might wish to take a course on legal vocabulary for writers, and similar rules apply for medical or scientific writing. A freelance science writer, for example, might want to take a course on statistical interpretation so that they can accurately translate scientific papers into layman’s terms. Though it can be hard to admit, or writing that requires a high level of precision, the language doesn’t always come naturally.
Talk To Experts – Or Hobbyists
Freelance writers need a range of communication skills, including the ability to adapt to different formats – social media vs journalism, reports vs blogs. One communication skill that’s often overlooked, though, is verbal communication.
You can learn a lot of the language that applies to your professional writing life by speaking to people who already know the vocabulary. Consider attending a relevant MeetUp group and practice conversing with people who work in or enjoy the field in their free time. For you, it might just be a kind of roleplaying, but it will help you learn some of the finer points of the vocabulary, hear it used naturally, and ask clarifying questions you might have.
As children, we learn new vocabulary for specialized uses all the time – we’re neurologically primed for it. As adults, though, even as writers, it takes a little more effort. So don’t get discouraged if you’re struggling to wade through the language of a new field or topic. With a little work, you can master the nuances and apply it like a seasoned professional.