What is a technical writer?
A technical writer is a professional who creates clear and concise informational content for various technical fields. They are responsible for translating complex information into easy-to-understand text tailored to a specific audience’s needs. This might include creating user manuals, how-to guides, white papers, FAQs, instruction booklets, and other forms of technical documentation.
These writers are crucial in industries such as technology, engineering, healthcare, and manufacturing, among others. Professionals in this role help bridge the gap between technical information and the end-user, making complex systems or procedures understandable for the intended audience. Their work contributes significantly to user experience, product usability, and customer satisfaction.
Duties and responsibilities
The primary responsibility of a technical writer is to produce clear, concise, and accurate content that describes a product, system, or procedure. They gather and interpret technical information from various sources, such as product specifications, design documents, and subject matter experts.
Their duties often involve:
- Creating and formatting documents
- Developing graphics or diagrams to support the text
- Ensuring the content aligns with industry standards and company guidelines
These professionals also review and revise documents based on feedback and often use specialized software or content management systems to create and manage their documentation.
Additionally, writers often collaborate with product managers, engineers, customer service teams, and other stakeholders to ensure that the content meets the audience’s needs and accurately represents the product or procedure.
Technical writers work in various settings, including technology companies, manufacturing firms, service industries, and government agencies. They often work in office environments, though remote work is becoming increasingly common in this field.
Their work is largely computer-based, and they often use word processing and desktop publishing software, as well as graphics software and content management systems. Attention to detail, strong writing skills, and understanding and simplifying complex information are critical in this role.
Typical work hours
Technical writers typically work full-time, standard business hours. However, deadlines and project needs can sometimes require additional hours. For instance, a product release might call for overtime to ensure that all related documentation is ready and accurate.
Freelance writers or those working remotely often have more flexible schedules, though they still need to meet their clients’ deadlines and expectations. Continuous learning is also critical to the job, as these professionals must stay updated on industry trends, new tools, and the technical fields they write about.
How to become a technical writer
To become a technical writer, you will need a combination of education, skills, and experience. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal:
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree
A bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as English, communications, journalism, or a technical subject related to the industry you plan to work in, is typically the minimum educational requirement for entry-level positions. Some employers may also consider candidates with degrees in other fields combined with relevant writing experience and technical knowledge.
Step 2: Gain relevant work experience
Hands-on experience is essential for developing the skills necessary to succeed in this role. Look for internships, freelance opportunities, or entry-level positions that involve writing, editing, or content creation in a technical field. Gaining practical experience in creating technical documentation or working with technical subject matter will help you build a strong foundation for your career.
Step 3: Develop essential writing and communication skills
These writers need strong writing, editing, and communication skills to convey complex technical information clearly and concisely. Focus on developing these skills through on-the-job experience, writing workshops, or by pursuing courses in technical writing, editing, or content development.
Consider looking into the popular courses from Coursera and Udemy listed below. These classes are fully online with flexible deadlines, and you’ll earn a shareable certificate upon completion for each of them:
- Technical Writing: Master Your Writing Career
- Introduction To Technical Writing
- Professional Technical Writing: Advance Your Writing Skills
- Writing and Editing: Word Choice and Word Order
Step 4: Familiarize yourself with industry-specific tools and software
These professionals often use specialized tools and software to create and edit documentation, such as Adobe FrameMaker, MadCap Flare, or Microsoft Visio. Familiarize yourself with these tools and others specific to your industry, as well as content management systems and version control software, to streamline your writing process and collaborate with team members.
Step 5: Obtain relevant certifications (optional)
While not required, obtaining professional certifications in technical writing or related fields can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to the field. Some widely recognized certifications include the Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC) from the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and the Certified Technical Writer (CTW) from the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA).
Step 6: Build a professional portfolio
A professional portfolio is essential for showcasing your writing skills and technical expertise to potential employers. Collect samples of your best technical writing work, such as user guides, manuals, instructional materials, or technical reports, and organize them professionally. You may also want to create an online portfolio or personal website to share your work with prospective clients or employers easily.
Step 7: Network and stay current with industry trends
Build your professional network by attending industry events, conferences, and workshops related to technical writing, content development, or your specific field. Join professional associations and participate in online forums to connect with other technical writers and professionals in your industry.
Staying current with industry trends, best practices, and emerging technologies will help you remain competitive in the job market and ensure you are prepared for the evolving demands of the role.
How much do technical writers make?
Several factors can influence the salary of a technical writer. One of the most significant is experience. Those with a track record of producing clear, concise, and effective documentation and who understand the technologies they’re writing about generally earn more than those new to the field.
The specific industry in which they work can also greatly affect their compensation. Some industries, such as technology, pharmaceuticals, and engineering, typically offer higher salaries due to the complex and specialized nature of the writing required.
Geographic location plays a crucial role as well. Writers in areas with a higher cost of living and a strong tech industry, like Silicon Valley or Seattle, often earn more than those in other regions.
Education can also impact salary. While many come from a variety of educational backgrounds, those with a degree in a related field like technical communication, journalism, or the area in which they’re writing (such as computer science for a tech company) may have higher earning potential.
Lastly, the size of the company can significantly influence compensation. Larger companies with more complex documentation needs usually pay more than smaller companies.
Highest paying industries
- Software Publishers – $113,810
- Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing – $102,840
- Other Information Services – $101,660
- Natural Gas Distribution – $99,700
- Monetary Authorities – $97,450
Highest paying states
- California – $105,760
- Massachusetts – $91,500
- Washington – $90,980
- Virginia – $90,380
- Connecticut – $89,700
Types of technical writers
This career guide section explores the diverse types and specializations of technical writers. Their specializations can vary depending on their industry, the type of documents they create, and the specific audiences they target.
Software technical writer
Software technical writers specialize in creating documentation for software applications. This can include user manuals, online help guides, system requirements, release notes, and FAQs. These writers often work closely with software developers and product managers to ensure the accuracy and relevance of the documentation.
Medical technical writer
Medical technical writers create a range of documents in the healthcare industry. They may write patient information leaflets, medical device manuals, clinical trial protocols, or regulatory submission documents. These professionals typically have a background in life sciences and a deep understanding of regulatory standards in healthcare.
Engineering technical writer
These writers produce technical documentation related to engineering fields such as mechanical, electrical, civil, or software engineering. This might include product specifications, maintenance manuals, project proposals, and feasibility studies. They often have a background in engineering or a related field.
Scientific technical writer
Specializing in documenting scientific research and findings, writers in this role might write research papers, lab reports, science textbooks, or articles for science magazines. They usually have a solid understanding of scientific concepts and are skilled at presenting complex scientific information clearly.
Technical proposal writer
Technical proposal writers specialize in creating proposals for projects or contracts. These professionals write detailed documents describing the proposed solutions, outline the costs and benefits, and demonstrate how they meet the client’s needs. They often work in industries like IT, engineering, or government contracting.
Technical marketing writer
Technical marketing writers create content that combines technical information with marketing objectives. Writers in this position might write white papers, product datasheets, case studies, or blog posts that promote a product or service while explaining its technical features and benefits. These professionals often have a blend of technical knowledge and marketing skills.
Top skills for technical writers
Superior writing skills are fundamental for technical writers. They must communicate complex information clearly and succinctly, ensuring their documentation is easy to read and understand. This requires a firm grasp of grammar and syntax and the ability to write in a straightforward and logical style that suits the intended audience.
A strong understanding of technology is another crucial skill, as they often write about complex technical topics like software applications, engineering processes, or scientific research. Having a good grasp of these subjects allows them to understand the information they are writing about and explain it effectively to others.
Translating complex information into understandable content is vital for these writers. Their task is to take technical jargon and complicated concepts and present them in a way that is accessible to a non-technical audience. This ability is crucial for creating documentation that is useful and effective.
Research capabilities are also essential, as professionals in this role often need to gather information from various sources, such as product specifications, technical experts, and existing documentation. Strong research skills ensure their information is accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-date.
Finally, excellent attention to detail allows technical writers to ensure their documentation is free from errors, inconsistencies, and omissions. This meticulous approach is critical to producing high-quality documentation that users can rely on for accurate and helpful information.
Technical writer career path
The career path for a technical writer often begins with roles that develop writing skills and technical knowledge. This could be a position as a junior technical writer, content writer, or a similar role in a technical field. You’ll learn to translate complex information into clear, concise, and user-friendly documentation.
You can advance to a technical writer role with experience and a portfolio of technical writing samples. You’ll work closely with subject matter experts to create manuals, guides, FAQs, and other documentation that helps users understand and effectively use a product or service.
You could move into a senior role as you gain more experience and expertise. Here, you’ll handle more complex writing projects, may lead writing teams, and might be involved in strategic planning for documentation development.
Further advancement could lead to a role as a documentation manager or a director of technical writing, where you’ll oversee a team of technical writers and set the strategic direction for all technical documentation within an organization.
Beyond technical writing, some professionals transition into related fields such as technical training, project management, or product management, particularly if they have strong communication and organizational skills.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook for technical writers
One major trend is the increasing demand for writers in the tech industry, particularly in software development. As software becomes more complex and ubiquitous, there’s a growing need for skilled professionals to create user manuals, help systems, and other documentation that helps users understand and use these tools effectively.
Another trend is the growing importance of visual communication in technical writing. Infographics, diagrams, and other visual elements can significantly enhance understanding, and these writers are often expected to create or collaborate on these elements.
In addition, the shift toward agile and iterative development methodologies in many industries has implications for this role. They need to be flexible and able to work in fast-paced environments, often updating documentation to reflect rapid changes in products or processes.
Finally, the increasing globalization of business means that many writers must consider localization in their work, ensuring that documentation can be easily translated and understood in different languages and cultural contexts.
Employment projections for technical writers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for technical writers is projected to grow 6 percent through 2031, as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is largely driven by the ongoing expansion of scientific and technical products and the need for individuals to explain these products to a general audience.
Those with a solid technical background, excellent writing skills, and the ability to adapt to new tools and methodologies will likely have the best job prospects.
Technical writer career tips
Master different types of technical writing
In this role, you’ll need to create various documents, such as user manuals, help guides, and technical reports. Understanding each document type’s different formats, structures, and styles is crucial to producing high-quality, effective content.
Develop an understanding of your audience
Understanding your audience’s needs and technical knowledge level is vital to creating content that is accessible and useful. Always consider who will read your document and tailor your content to meet their needs.
Stay updated with industry trends
Industry trends can influence the tools you use, the topics you write about, and how you present information. Stay updated with these trends to ensure your technical writing remains current and relevant.
Build a professional network
Networking can provide valuable insights, learning opportunities, and potential collaborations. Consider joining professional associations and communities such as:
- Society for Technical Communication (STC)
- American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)
- Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP)
Improve your technical skills
These writers often need to understand and explain complex technical information in simple terms. Improving your technical skills can help you understand this information more easily and write about it more accurately.
Implement continuous learning
Continuous learning is key in the rapidly evolving field of technical writing. Stay updated on new tools, methodologies, and best practices. Areas of focus could include:
- Emerging trends in technical communication
- New technical writing tools and software
- Best practices in information design and usability
- Updates on standards and regulations in your industry
Develop strong research skills
Research is a crucial part of technical writing. You’ll need to gather accurate, up-to-date information to create your documents. Strong research skills can help you find this information efficiently and ensure your content is reliable and accurate.
Cultivate clarity and conciseness in writing
Technical writing should be clear and concise. Avoid unnecessary jargon, keep your sentences short and straightforward, and use diagrams or illustrations to clarify complex points. Cultivating these qualities in your writing can make your documents easier to understand and more effective.
Where the technical writer jobs are
- New York
Top job sites
What skills are necessary for a technical writer?
These writers should have strong written communication skills and the ability to explain complex technical information clearly and concisely. They should be proficient in using various tools and software for document creation, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe FrameMaker, and for graphics, such as Adobe Illustrator.
Good research skills are essential, as professionals in this role often need to understand and write about unfamiliar technologies or processes. Attention to detail, problem-solving skills, and the ability to work independently or as part of a team are also important.
What are the typical duties of a technical writer?
A technical writer typically creates technical documents and guides, such as user manuals, product descriptions, and operating instructions. They work with subject matter experts to understand the technology or process they are writing about and translate this information into user-friendly content.
These writers may also update existing documentation, edit and proofread content, and manage the document review and approval process. Sometimes, they may also create visual aids, such as diagrams or flowcharts, to help explain complex information.
What type of education or certification does a technical writer typically have?
Many have a bachelor’s degree in English, communications, journalism, or a related field. Some may have a degree in a technical subject, such as computer science or engineering, particularly if they specialize in writing for a specific industry.
Certification programs are available through organizations like the Society for Technical Communication that can demonstrate professional competency in the field.
How does a technical writer contribute to the success of a technology company?
They contribute to the success of a technology company by creating clear, accurate, and user-friendly documentation for its products or services. This documentation can help users understand and effectively use the company’s technology, leading to improved customer satisfaction and reduced demands on customer support.
Well-written documentation can also contribute to a positive image of the company and its commitment to quality and user-friendliness.
How does a technical writer work with other professionals in a technology company?
Working closely with various professionals within a technology company, they may collaborate with product managers, developers, and engineers to understand the technology they write about.
They might also work with marketing professionals to ensure the documentation is consistent with the company’s brand and messaging and with customer support teams to understand common user issues or questions the documentation should address.
What are the challenges a technical writer might face?
Challenges can include understanding complex technical information, particularly if it is outside their expertise, and translating it into clear, user-friendly content.
They may also face tight deadlines, especially in agile development environments. Keeping up-to-date with changes in technology, as well as in technical writing tools and practices, is another common challenge.
What are the key performance indicators for a technical writer?
Key performance indicators might include the number and quality of documents produced, adherence to deadlines, and user feedback on documentation. In some cases, they may be evaluated on metrics related to the use of the documentation, such as the number of downloads or page views or the reduction in customer support requests related to topics covered in the documentation.
How does a technical writer stay updated with technology trends and products?
Writers can stay updated with the latest technology trends and products by participating in ongoing professional development, such as attending industry conferences, workshops, or training courses. They might also join professional organizations, read industry publications, and follow relevant online forums or social media channels to stay informed about the latest trends and advancements.
Additionally, they can collaborate with colleagues and network with professionals in their industry to exchange knowledge and best practices.
How does a technical writer ensure the accuracy and readability of technical documents?
By working closely with subject matter experts and conducting thorough research, they can ensure readability by following best practices for technical writing. These include using clear and concise language, organizing content logically, and including visual aids when necessary.
Regular reviews and revisions, as well as user testing or feedback, can also help ensure that the documents are accurate and user-friendly.