Technical writers are known for breaking down complex concepts into simple and clear documentation. You should consider this profession if you can take complicated information and simplify it into easy-to-read materials for different audiences.
The US Bureau of Labor estimates that the market for technical writers will increase by seven percent over the next decade. In this guide, we will discuss how to become a technical writer, going over potential educational paths, required skills, salaries, and job outlook.
What Is a Technical Writer?
A technical writer is a professional who communicates complex information in a simple and easy-to-read way for a standard audience. These professionals find employment in a variety of industries that require technical documentation, working on instruction manuals, user guides, reference guides, journal articles, and white papers.
Most technical writers have backgrounds in academic disciplines such as computer science, engineering, information technology, and development. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 35 percent of technical writers work in professional, scientific, and technical industries, while 15 percent work in the manufacturing sector.
Technical Writer Job Description
Technical writers are wordsmiths that contribute to product manuals, guides, journal articles, websites, or any other content composed of technical information that needs to be communicated clearly and effectively.
Their roles vary within companies and industries. However, a technical writer’s main duties involve researching, outlining, writing, and editing new or existing technical documentation to meet organizational standards. They also maintain databases of reference materials that feature design specifications and research materials.
Technical Writer Salary and Job Outlook
The job outlook for technical writers is promising. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for these professionals is set to increase by seven percent over the next decade. BLS notes that this rate is faster than the national average for all occupations. This means that technical writers will have numerous employment opportunities in the future.
In addition, as a technical writer, your salary will be significantly higher than the national average. BLS estimates that the average salary for technical writers is $74,650 per year, while the national average stands at $56,310. As you can see, the job outlook for this profession is fairly promising, with these experts enjoying reasonably high salaries.
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Top Reasons to Become a Technical Writer in 2021
There are many reasons why you should consider a career in technical writing. For instance, many start-ups and small and mid-sized engineering companies today are hiring more technical writers, meaning you’re likely to find employment. Besides, you can write from anywhere in the world. Here are other reasons to become a technical writer.
- Low barriers to entry. Entry-level technical writing positions usually require only a good command of the language combined with technical writing skills. It helps if you have a background in engineering or manufacturing, but this knowledge is not required.
- Opportunities to learn new things and gain new skills. Every day is a chance to learn as technical writing exposes you constantly to new concepts. Additionally, you get to interact with different tools in your scope of work.
- Positive job outlook and good salaries. The job market for technical writers is projected to increase over the next few years. This means that you’ll have numerous employment opportunities, most of which come with high salaries.
Technical Writer Job Requirements
Job requirements for technical writers vary according to the company, industry, and position level. However, most employers prefer hiring job applicants with proven experience, communication skills, and the ability to learn quickly. Here are other job requirements for technical writers.
- Experience as a technical writer or in a similar role. Most hiring managers prefer hiring professionals with at least a year’s experience, but this number will vary according to the company and the seniority of the position.
- Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, Journalism, or related discipline. Although this is not a major requirement, recruiters prefer candidates with a degree in these fields.
- Background in a technical field. Having previous experience in a technical field such as manufacturing or engineering is beneficial. However, this varies based on the company and the seniority of the position.
Types of Technical Writer Careers
Technical writers are needed in dozens of industries and operations. Technical writing is an expansive field that offers different careers for writers. Here are some of the most common technical writing jobs.
Medical and Scientific Writer
Writers here read academic research papers in these fields and transform them into more palatable and engaging content. Medical writing requires extensive experience and understanding of the subject matter as the content you produce will be consumed by those in professional and academic fields.
User Manual/Assistance Guide Writer
Most technical writers fall under this category. Writers that specialize in these technical documents break down products into simpler parts and explain how each part works. They also address possible queries that might arise while using the product. Barriers to entry here are fairly low.
Assembly Manual Writer
Assembly manual writers work in the mechanical maintenance department or a related unit that focuses on assembling and repairing products. These technical writers need to have the technical skills required to understand the disassembly and reassembly process of each product.
Technical Review and Report Writer
Technical reports are important to corporate firms and are often presented to stakeholders during meetings and business pitches. Because the job combines academic reporting and technical research-based writing, these professionals need to have extensive knowledge of the key concepts in the report.
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Technical Writer Meaning: What Does a Technical Writer Do?
A technical writer is a professional who simplifies complex information into simple and easy-to-digest documents for a wide variety of audiences. They work on documents such as guides, instruction manuals, academic journals, operating procedures, and other technical documents. Here are more job duties, roles, and responsibilities of technical writers.
These professionals gather topic-related information from different sources including journals, websites, academic books, and literature dissertations. They study these documents to better understand the topic at hand.
Break Down Complex Concepts
A technical writer’s main duty involves transforming complex information into a more palatable form that the target audience can understand. The end goal is to produce technical documents that are accessible by the standard reader.
Maintain a Database or Glossary of Technical Information
Maintaining records is an essential part of this job so that this information can be used for future reference. Most technical documents include a glossary at the end so that the reader can quickly find out the meaning of any term.
Essential Technical Writer Skills
As their names suggest, these professionals need to have specific technical skills to ensure they perform as required. Here are some of the most essential skills that a technical writer should have.
Effective Research Skills
Research is paramount as a technical writer. The best technical writers are those that can collect the most useful information in the shortest time possible. As a technical writer, your research resources can include journals, academic books, literature dissertations, and even websites.
Communication skills are essential as a technical writer. During the research phase of any project, you may have to interact with different stakeholders, including project managers, engineers, or clients. Understanding their points of view, feedback, or specifications is critical to producing the best possible output.
This is an essential skill for these professionals. To be a professional technical writer, you must have total command of your style of writing. In addition, your writing must be clear, accurate, to the point, and free of grammatical and spelling errors.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Technical Writer?
It can take anywhere from six months to four years to become a technical writer. The amount of time it takes depends on your education or career path. It will take you about four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, while it can take six months if you choose to enroll in a certificate program. Most employers prefer hiring technical writers with a bachelor’s degree.
Can a Coding Bootcamp Help Me Become a Technical Writer?
Yes, a coding bootcamp can help you become a technical writer. Most technical writers work in scientific, manufacturing, and technical industries. Enrolling in a top coding bootcamp can equip you with the skills necessary to launch a successful career in such fields. However, it would be best if you worked on your writing and communication skills as well.
Can I Become a Technical Writer from Home?
Yes, you can become a technical writer from home and work remotely. Companies, especially those in the manufacturing, scientific, and medical industries, are constantly looking for remote technical writers. To work as a freelance writer for any of these companies, all you need is experience in writing, a background in a technical field, and a computer with an Internet connection.
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How to Become a Technical Writer: A Step-by-Step Guide
To become a technical writer, you must learn concepts involved with your area of interest. Additionally, you must work on your communication and writing skills. Here is a step-by-step guide that you should follow to help you land a lucrative technical writing job.
Step 1: Further Your Education
Technical writing requires extensive knowledge. For this reason, you should consider enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program related to your area of interest. If this is not an option, consider enrolling in a coding bootcamp, a certification program, or an online course. You should also consider an online writing course to help you develop your writing skills.
Step 2: Read Materials from Industry Leaders
Reading will help you strengthen your command of the language, and poring over materials from leading companies and industry influencers will expand your technical vocabulary and help you carry out your job with ease.
Step 3: Start Writing
Explore some of the many writing opportunities available online. Consider freelancing, whether that is selling your services online on platforms like Upwork or Contena or producing content for companies in industries that interest you. This exposure will help you expand your horizons and job outlook and become a full-time technical writer. You will also learn how to use technical writing software in the process.
Best Schools and Education for a Technical Writer Career
You have several options when it comes to choosing schools and training programs that lead to successful technical writing careers. Below are some of the best education programs and training options that will put you on the path to success.
Technical Writer Bootcamps
Coding bootcamps feature immersive and fast-paced courses designed to equip you with skills in a short period, usually 12 to 48 weeks. Bootcamps are worth it because they are cheaper and more career-oriented compared to traditional university programs. UC Berkeley Bootcamp offers courses in technical writing.
Vocational schools offer instructional programs that focus on the skills necessary to work in a specific job. Many schools offer online programs that will develop your technical writing skills through on-the-job training. This schooling option is considerably cheaper than pursuing a college degree.
Community colleges offer two-year associate degree programs that help students launch their careers. You can also use the credits gained from a community college toward a bachelor’s degree offered at a university.
Many community colleges across the US offer different technical writing programs which feature online learning options. They include Red Rocks Community College and North Virginia Community College.
Technical Writer Degrees
It may be difficult to find universities that offer bachelor’s degree programs focusing on technical writing. Instead, consider pursuing a degree in a technical field that interests you and that you would like to write about. This could be anything from engineering and medicine to science.
You can also consider degrees in communication, creative writing, English, or journalism. As you complete your bachelor’s program, you should enroll in a short technical writing course to prepare you for technical writing jobs.
The Most Important Technical Writer Certificates
Certifications are an excellent way of proving your skills in a specific profession. Enrolling in a certificate program is a great way to build your skills in technical writing. Consider the following top technical writing certificates.
With over 38,000 enrolled students to date, this course from MIPT, which you can find on Coursera, is one you should consider. You will gain the necessary skills to communicate information to different audiences. Additionally, you will learn how to prepare different technical reports including lab, research, design, and feasibility reports.
Technical Writing: Master Your Writing Career
This course on Udemy will help you become a successful and reliable technical writer. The course is delivered by a technical writer with more than 20 years of experience in the business. You will improve your grammar and writing techniques to better communicate with different audiences.
Certified Professional Technical Communicator
The Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC) certification is awarded by the Society for Technical Communications (STC) to professional technical writers and editors. This certification is proof of your communication skills.
How to Prepare for Your Technical Writer Job Interview
One of the best ways to get ready for a job interview is by preparing beforehand using related practice questions. Familiarizing yourself with possible interview questions is a great way to get you relaxed and confident. Here are some questions that should help you get ready for your technical writer job interview.
Technical Writer Job Interview Practice Questions
- Which tools do you use on a regular basis? Are you familiar with WordPress, Notepad++, Adobe FrameMaker, or Microsoft Word?
- Explain the differences between a blog, white paper, and journal.
- What is the difference between casual and professional tones in writing?
- Walk us through your technical writing process from research stages to publishing or submission.
Should I Become a Technical Writer in 2021?
Yes, you should become a technical writer, especially if you enjoy writing. The manufacturing, tech, engineering, and medical industries, among many others, are expanding and in the process employ these professionals to write the documentation for their products. This means that as a technical writer, you’ll enjoy a good job outlook. In addition, these professionals earn reasonably high salaries.
Technical Writer FAQ
Can You Become a Technical Writer Without a Degree?
Yes, you can become a technical writer without a degree. There are several technical writing careers that simply require job applicants to be excellent writers. However, most employers in the manufacturing, scientific, and technical industries prefer hiring professionals with a degree in related fields because of the academic competence required.
Is It Hard to Become a Technical Writer?
Yes, it can be challenging, especially if you are working in a highly technical field and need expertise in complex topics like medicine or engineering. You need to have a passion for writing combined with technical knowledge or eagerness to learn to help you organize information in an effective yet simple way.
Is Technical Writing a Good Career?
Yes, a career in technical writing can be highly rewarding considering the increasing job demand and reasonably high salaries. Besides, multiple reports from professionals on sites such as Glassdoor suggest that this career has a decent work-life balance, especially for remote positions.
Is Technical Writing a Stable Job?
Yes, technical writing offers stability and job security especially for those employed in large organizations such as Oracle, Amazon, Google, and IBM. These companies are constantly coming up with new technical products that need repair manuals, how-to guides, employee guides, installation guides, and other types of documentation.
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