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How to Become a Technical Writer

If your written communication skills are outstanding, you have excellent time management skills, and you have a knack for explaining technical concepts in a way that non-technical people can understand, you might be a perfect fit for a career as a technical writer.

Technical writers create instructional manuals and troubleshooting guides for products. They also write how-to guides, quick reference guides, and cheat sheets for consumers to use. Some technical writers create product announcements, brochures, and advertisements for products and services. A strong command of grammar and punctuation, exceptional proofreading skills, and the ability to present complex, technical information in a clear, concise manner are vital to the success of a technical writer. Technical writers may create training materials for software products and update them as needed. 

A good technical writer is aware of the needs of their audience and able to adapt the content to the appropriate level. As a technical writer, you have to have a firm understanding of the content you are writing about. This may involve doing research. You will also need good interpersonal and listening skills to interpret the required objectives and goals of the client or company. 

Sample job description

Technical writers prepare technical documentation to end-users by gathering and analyzing technical and product information and consulting with engineering and technical staff. They also develop documentation templates for the system, database, and program information. Technical writers must have excellent writing, editing, and communication skills, the ability to thrive under pressure, and be able to clearly present technical content to end-users. If you have experience writing clear and concise technical content and exceptional writing skills, you might be a perfect fit as a technical writer for us.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Organize material and complete writing assignments according to set standards regarding order, clarity, conciseness, style, and terminology
  • Maintain records and files of work and revisions
  • Edit, standardize, or make changes to material prepared by other writers or establishment personnel
  • Study drawings, specifications, mockups, and product samples to integrate and delineate technology, operating procedure, and production sequence and detail
  • Interview production and engineering personnel and read journals and other material to become familiar with product technologies and production method
  • Observe production, developmental, and experimental activities to determine operating procedure and detail
  • Review published materials and recommend revisions or changes in scope, format, content, and methods of reproduction and binding

Education and experience

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, communications, or a related field.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Experience working in a technical writing position
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Able to write in explanatory and procedural styles for multiple audiences
  • Excellent prioritization and multitasking skills

Preferred qualifications

  • 5+ years working as a writer
  • Experience with SEO, app development language, and content writing
  • Strong written skills
  • Excellent grammar skills

Typical work environment

Technical writers typically work in offices, but they may also work some days or every day from home. They spend much of their time researching and writing technical content. They also collaborate with engineers and other technology experts. Technical writers work traditional business hours, but might be required to work nights or weekends to meet deadlines.  

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a technical writer in an office setting are 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday.

Freelance technical writers are often able to set their own hours and work remotely.

Available certifications

Many institutions offer certifications to help UX writers improve their skills and knowledge. Here are some of the top certifications for UX writers: 

  • Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC). The Society for Technical Communication (STC) certification program is split into 3 tiers. The Foundation tier is for entry-level technical writers and demonstrates a sound knowledge of the principles of technical communication. The Practitioner tier proves you have a high proficiency in applying the best practices of technical communication. The Expert tier is designed for experienced technical writers and demonstrates the highest level of expertise as a technical communicator. To be eligible for the CPTC certifications, you must become a member of the STC.
  • Tech-Writer Certification Programs. Tech-Writer offers several certification programs designed for technical writers of all levels who want to advance their technical writing careers. The Basic Certificate in technical writing consists of 3 courses for entry-level candidates who want to learn technical writing. The Certificate In Professional Technical Communication helps candidates develop their skills specific to the field of technical writing. They learn advanced writing styles and competencies needed to create technical written reports, project proposals, feasibility studies, website communications, and other forms of technical correspondence. 

Career path

Technical writers are required to have a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, communications, or a related field. Students who aspire to be technical writers are encouraged to pursue internships with tech companies that employ Technical Writers or companies in a particular field of interest, such as engineering.

It can also be useful for technical writers to obtain certifications in the field. The Society for Technical Communication, a professional association, offers multiple levels of certification in technical communication. It is also beneficial for technical writers to gain an understanding of how software and websites are created to get a better grasp of the development process.

In addition to general writing skills and knowledge, a technical writer needs to have soft skills like expertise in interviewing and collaborating. Technical writers have to interview various members of the product development team to learn as much as possible about all aspects of a particular product to write informative technical documentation. Writing technical documents is a collaborative process, involving multiple members of a product development team to make sure all the documentation conveys a consistent message.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 27-3042

2020 Employment52,300
Projected Employment in 203058,300
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 12% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift6,100 increase

Since technical writers should always be aware of the needs of their audience, they need to keep up on trends in the field. According to the Society for Technical Communication, the use of structured documents is on the rise in the technical writing field. Structured documents use a form of coding or markup to allow for content reuse and agile documentation. It also allows for materials to be presented on multiple platforms.

Another trend in the technical writing field is the use of mobile delivery for technical documents. Since more computing is being done on smartphones, users need to be able to view technical documents easily on mobile devices. Users can’t always get to a desktop to read technical documents when they need to troubleshoot a problem with a product.

Context-sensitive help is another emerging trend in technical writing. It delivers targeted information to users right at the time it is needed. This often leads to a better user experience than forcing a user to sort through an entire document, searching for the information they need.