Technical writers, also called technical communicators, use the written word to convey technical information to a business or consumer audience. They commonly write a wide variety of materials, including:
- Assembly instructions
- Fact sheets
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) documents
- How-to guides
- Instruction manuals
- Journal articles
- Operating manuals
- Policy and design documents
- Product packaging
- User guides
- Warning labels
Although the job title is technical “writer,” these professionals don’t only use the written word to communicate. They also have a hand in creating or choosing videos, diagrams, drawings, charts and other images to help convey information. In fact, part of a technical writer’s job is to determine which means of communication will work best for delivering a given message.
Solid writing skills are essential for technical writers. They must be able to clearly and concisely express technical information in a way that makes it accessible to people, like customers, who might not have a technical background. Technical writers address a varied audience in the many types of documents they create. Some materials, of course, are for end users. However, other materials they create are used to share technical information with the product’s manufacturers and designers.
Technical writers must have two different but very important qualities: good communication skills and a solid background of knowledge in the technical subject about which they write. Many technical writers specialize in the field in which they have a background, such as medicine or computer science.
While a bachelor’s degree is typically required to attain a technical writing position, a wide variety of options of majors are available to undergraduate students who aspire to become technical writers. An increasing number of schools offer technical writing programs. Many technical writers begin studying English, journalism, communications or creative writing. Students who study English or writing may want to develop their knowledge in a technical field, as well, either through additional academic study like a minor or dual major or through work experience.
Still other technical writers begin by studying and working in technical fields, like computer science, mathematics, engineering or any science field. These professionals often work as research assistants or specialists in their technical area of study, where they develop the background knowledge necessary to work as a technical writer. They then cultivate the writing and communication skills necessary to attain a technical writer position and succeed in the career.
However candidates choose to prepare for a career in technical writing, they should build a portfolio that showcases their skills by providing examples of their work. Potential employers are likely to consider the strength of their portfolio as a crucial factor in hiring decisions. To stay competitive and improve their advancement potential, technical writers may wish to seek certification from organizations like the Society for Technical Communication or the American Medical Writers Association.
Technical writers earn a median salary of $65,500 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They also enjoy a positive job outlook with a 15 percent increase in job opportunities expected over a decade. Due to factors like median and top salaries in the field, flexibility, job outlook and the relatively low stress level, this career has repeatedly ranked in the top 100 on CNN Money’s Best Jobs in America list.
Technical writers are communication professionals who express complex technical information in ways that consumers, manufacturers and designers can easily understand through documents such as user manuals and instructions.