How Do Contract Technical Writing Jobs Work?

If you have experience in a technical field and can write well, then you may wish to work as a technical writing contractor. Read on to find out what's involved in contract work, as well as to see what the educational requirements and economic outlook is like for technical writers. Schools offering English Reading & Writing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Contract Work Overview

Companies sometimes hire technical writers on a per-contract basis to create easily understandable manuals, instructions and other documents. Although some technical writers work as employees for only one company, many work as freelancers, whether self-employed or for a writing firm.

Important Facts About Technical Writers

Work EnvironmentOffice setting
Similar OccupationsComputer programmer, editor, interpreter
Key SkillsTechnical, writing, and communication skills
CertificationAvailable but not required

Finding a Job

The first step in contract writing is finding a job. As a freelancer, you will need a way to market yourself, such as a website or a classified ad, as well as writing samples. You could also apply for a position as a writing consultant with a firm that finds contract jobs for you. Keep in mind that finding contracts requires cold calling, persistence and patience.

Negotiating the Contract

Once you have been hired, you will need to understand the terms of your contract. Common points for negotiation include the project's deadline, payment amount, format and length of the document or documents, where the work will take place and the types of technology that will be used. Being as clear as possible on all points of the contract will help prevent any miscommunication and problems.

Completing the Job

After you have researched, written, edited and formatted the document, you will turn it in to the company, thereby completing your contract. Contract technical writers tend to rely on networking and word of mouth for future contracts, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), doing the best job possible and meeting all deadlines can lead to future work (www.bls.gov).

Job Description

Technical writers produce written documents for a non-technical audience and often contract their services to organizations. The information they convey in their documents might be difficult to understand in its raw form; for this reason, many technical writers are trained in computers, engineering, science or healthcare as well as writing.

By understanding complex topics in specialty fields, these professionals can break information down and present it in a format that many types of users can understand. As a technical writer, you might create a how-to manual for a company's computer system or write an assembly manual for a product's end users.

Education and Advancement

The BLS notes that most successful technical writers hold at least a bachelor's degree in English, journalism or communications. A few universities offer bachelor's degrees specifically in technical writing. Some employers give preference to those who also have formal education in specialty fields, such as computers. The BLS also notes that some on-the-job training may be required as well.

If you have a technical background but need to improve your writing skills, you may want to seek a graduate certificate in technical writing. In order to advance your career, you might consider joining the Society for Technical Communication, which offers career services to its members.

Job Outlook and Salary

According to the BLS, technical writers can expect good career prospects, with fast 15% growth expected for this career from 2012 through 2022. As existing technical writers retire, this will create even more job opportunities in the field. The technology industry's growth will also lead to new jobs, although you will face competition if you plan to work as a freelancer. The most growth will be in the professional, scientific and technical services industry.

In May 2014, the BLS reported that most technical writers made between $41,450 and $108,460 a year and that the median salary was $69,030. The highest average pay of $85,700 a year was found in specialized design services, while technical writers working for software publishers made $72,810 on average. Computer systems design offered these writers an average wage of $76,110, while management, scientific and technical consulting services paid them $74,050 on average. Writers working in architectural, engineering and related services earned an average wage of $69,560.

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