How to Become a Technical Writer in 5 Steps

Explore a career as technical writer. Read about education and training requirements, salary and potential job growth to see if this is the right career choice for you. Schools offering English Reading & Writing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Technical Writer?

Technical writers present technical information in a way that is meant to be easy to follow. They produce how-to materials and instructional manuals, as well as brochures, articles and other documents meant to inform people of how to use an item or perform a specific task. Technical writers may use photographs or diagrams to support the information they're presenting or illustrate the steps. They may also create content for how-to videos or online informational videos. As part of their responsibilities technical writers will also gather feedback and revise content for further editions or publications to make it more concise, clear and effective.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study English, journalism, communications
Key Skills Writing skills, technical skills and experience, multi-media skills, ability to work independently and as part of a team
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10%*
Average Salary (2015) $73,350*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Technical Writers Do?

As a technical writer, you may work closely with engineers, scientists and other specialists to learn the intricacies of a concept or technology. You then communicate this specialized knowledge to both professionals and a general audience by creating instruction manuals, training materials and user guides. Part of your work may also involve editing, revising and updating subject material prepared by other writers. You may also be responsible for selecting the illustrations and diagrams that accompany your work.

Step 1: Know What to Expect

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), technical writers are beginning to take a multimedia approach to their work involving Web design and software (www.bls.gov). Advances in remote technology allow you to work from anywhere and with people around the world, so working nights and weekends is not uncommon. Although you may be employed directly by your chosen industry, much of your work may be done under a contract or on a freelance basis. You may also find yourself working on multiple writing projects while trying to meet deadlines.

Step 2: Explore Types of Technical Writing

Technical writers are employed by a vast array of industries, such as computer systems, healthcare corporations and engineering companies. Knowing which of these industries you'd like to work for may help you decide what type of undergraduate education to pursue. The BLS reports that changes and improvements in technology would result in a greater need for your services, so you may want to keep abreast of the latest developments in your chosen field.

Step 3: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

You don't have to follow a fixed path to become a technical writer, but many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree. You can pursue a degree in English, communications, journalism or a technical subject to start your preparation. If you want extra preparation after graduating, then short technical writing certificate programs are also available. Additionally, there are bachelor's degree programs in technical communications that focus on strengthening your writing skills as well as providing you with a strong foundation in business, mathematics, science and technology.

Step 4: Build Your Reputation

As you embark on your career path, you can build a portfolio of writing samples that showcases your technical skills and creativity. You may draw upon projects that you did in school or jobs that you completed during internships. Keep in mind that establishing your credibility and reliability with an employer can lead to long-term dealings and more freelance work in the future.

Step 5: Develop Your Technical Expertise

In addition to solid communication and writing skills, your profession requires a degree of technical expertise. You can help your endeavors to explain complex concepts in a straightforward fashion by gaining experience in a technical background. Although coming from a technical background may speed along this process, you can also work closely with and interview specialists in your field to develop your expertise.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Editors, writers and authors all need a bachelor's degree, and are all involved in the creation of content. They may assign and review or write content that is intended to inform or entertain an intended audience. Like technical writers, they need strong writing skills and the ability to understand the reading level of their intended audience and produce content that is designed to be effective for that intended audience. Interpreters and translators convert text or speech from one language to another. In order to do this they need a bachelor's degree and the ability to understand the phrasing used in both languages so that they can convey the intended meaning to the desired audience effectively. This is similar to the work of technical writers because they are tasked with taking information that is not immediately clear and presenting it in a way that the audience can understand and follow.

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