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Deciding if a Career as a Technical Writer is Right for You

Updated on November 5, 2012
Source

Are you considering a career as a technical writer?

This article will explain what a technical writer is, what they do, and the types of work they may be asked to perform. It will also detail the qualities a good technical writer should have, the kind of education or training that is required, the work environment, how much money they earn and the current job outlook.

How to Launder Bed Sheets

  1. Set the wash cycle
  2. Set the load size
  3. Set the temperature to hot
  4. Turn the washer on
  5. Add 1/2 cup of detergent
  6. Put the sheets in the washer
  7. Close the lid

Have you ever jotted down instructions for someone, either at home or at work, on how to do a certain task or use a certain product?

Imagine your headed off to work and your teenager offers to launder all the bedsheets. (Notice I said 'imagine'...a mom can dream can't she??) You wouldn't give them the manual and expect them to figure it out on their own would you? No, after you came too and picked yourself up off the floor you would make a list of instructions similar to the ones on the right.

That is what a technical writer does, they take complex mumbo jumbo and put it in words that everyone can understand. If you enjoy writing and love learning how to use new products and technology a career as a technical writer or technical communicator may be a great career for you.

This manual was created by a Technical Writer.
This manual was created by a Technical Writer. | Source

What is a Technical Writer and what do they do?

A technical writer, also called a technical communicator, is someone who can take complex technical information and translate it into a simple, easy to use format that anyone can understand.

A technical writer is responsible for creating written documents such as owner's manuals, user's guides, online help guides, "how to" guides, trouble shooting guides, "Quick Start" instructions and FAQ lists. They may also be responsible for writing the marketing material on a product, supplying informational articles and blog posts.

The job of a technical writer has evolved to include verbal and visual communication formats such as video tutorials, screencasts, podcasts and other types of non-written communication. Hence the term technical communicator.

What type of schooling or training does a Technical Writer need?

The type of schooling or training a technical writer needs really depends on the industry they wish to work in.

Some employers require technical writers have a bachelor's degree in communications, English or journalism. Highly technical fields like computer science, engineering, or medical may require an additional degree in that particular field.

While some industries require a degree, one is not mandatory to become a technical writer. You may already be an experienced writer whether by choice or happenstance and found you have a knack for technical writing. A proven track record and experience along with other qualities and abilities is just as important as a degree, if not more important.

What qualities and skills should a Technical Writer have?

There is more to being a good technical writer than professional training or schooling. Below are some of the qualities and skills that will help you excel as a technical communicator.

Qualities

  • love to learn new things
  • enjoy writing
  • like to teach others
  • creative

Skills

  • excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • detail oriented
  • highly organized
  • good time management
  • good people skills
  • effective project management

Do you have the qualities and skills necessary to excel as a technical communicator?

Where might a Technical Writer work?

Computer systems design and related services have the greatest need for technical writers, more than double any other industry.

Other industries where technical writers are needed include architecture, engineering, scientific research, software publishing and consulting services for management, scientific and technical fields.

Industries with the most Technical Writers

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How much money can a Technical Writer expect to make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median annual wage of a technical writer was $63,280 as of May 2010.

The industries employing the largest numbers of technical writers as of that date and their median annual wages were as follows:

Source

What is the job outlook for a Technical Writer?

Technologically sophisticated products will continue to require the use of technical writers who can clearly communicate information and instructions to end users especially in the fields of engineering, computer science and electronics.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the field to grow 17% by the year 2020. This is due to the increased reliance on complex, highly technical products for both personal and professional use.

Source

Suggestions for Pursuing a Career as a Technical Writer

College Classes

In addition to local community colleges, many colleges offer online classes in a variety of writing specialties. Consider taking one in technical writing to see if it truly is right for you.

Technical Writer's Group

If you want to learn more about the technical writers field I suggest visiting The Society for Technical Communication's web site.

The STC is dedicated to the advancement of the technical communications field and has members in almost 50 countries. Their website contains information on education, certification, job openings as well as online classes and seminars. Definitely worth exploring if you are serious about a career as a Technical Communicator.

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