The field of technical writing and the job of technical writer, both have been growing at a remarkable rate in recent times. As its name suggests, technical writing involves various tasks such as creating user guides for technical things, like new products, guiding a user through each step of installing new software, helping businesses understand how to attract new customers, and so on.
If you have been interested in learning how to become a technical writer, then look no further than this article!
In here, I have covered everything you need to know about this promising new field, and what you need to do to establish yourself in it. I have laid particular emphasis on the steps you must take to develop your skills and get qualified in the field.
What is a Technical Writer?
Basically, a technical writer or tech writer translates complex information into a much simpler and understandable form. This message allows the intended audience (who could be anyone from a skilled engineer to a regular customer) to take the required action. As a technical writer, you must decide the structure for presenting the information in a manner that ensures optimal understanding for the end user.
Material produced by technical writers includes installation guides, quick reference guides, online help sections, standard operating procedure (SOP), technical proposals, documents, and so on.
Obviously, the field demands extensive knowledge of the technical concepts featured within these instructional documents and manuals.
Technical writing also involves editing others’ work and ensuring consistent use of terminology and other word choices across various documents.
More and more technical writers are now working online and are employed in various fields such as information technology (IT), finance, health care, and research. Technical writing has been one of the most popular work-from-home jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that the median salary of a technical writer was $72,850 back in May of 2019. This is an amount comparable to what media professionals like writers, authors, and editors earn (with median salaries in the low $60,000s). It is also notably higher than what broadcast news analysts, correspondents, and reporters earn (with a median pay of $46,270).
There is significantly high demand for technical writers today, unlike other fields like journalism – where shuttered newsrooms and layoffs have become common. By virtue of the rising popularity of scientific and technical products in general, the U.S. could add as many as 4,300 tech communication jobs in this decade.
Whenever you bring up the topic of technical writing, people tend to think of thick piles of documents laden with confusing jargon, acronyms, and vague concepts. However, the recent trend in technical writing replaces such cumbersome writing with text that is readily accessible to everyone. This is known as the “plain language movement” that aims to make it easier for the public to read, understand, and make use of all kinds of important information.
Other important qualities of a good technical writer include:
- Structuring information properly
- Logically laying out the key points
- Writing in a concise, clear, and neutral manner
- An analytical approach
The ability to interact effectively with busy engineers, scientists, researchers, security analysts, and different subject matter experts (SMEs)
Can I become a Technical Writer?
A lot of technical writers have at least a bachelor’s degree, usually in journalism, English, or any related communication especiality. Some people also enter the field after building successful careers in elementary education, academia, business, or foreign language translation. Recovering journalists and people experienced in working with SMEs are good candidates for the job as well.
You will obviously have a great advantage if you are passionate about technology. Anyone who writes clearly and has a degree in computer science, engineering, or any other technical field will easily be able to get hired as a technical writer. However, keep in mind that regardless of your degree or previous personal experience, you must have a portfolio to highlight your best work.
How to become a Technical Writer?
Anyone who wants to become a technical writer should try to get in touch with the Society for Technical Communication (STC). It is the world’s largest organization for technical writers that offers certificates in technical writing and various other resources. It also comes with local chapters that offer useful newsletters and blogs, along with excellent seminars, conferences, and other events.
Apart from this, you can get training to enter the field of technical writing by following the strategies listed below:
- Attend the free online classes from Udemy or any other reliable source
- Enroll in a university or college offering technical writing degrees
- Make sure you learn and develop the skill of web designing and familiarize yourself with coding
- Be proactive about developing your skills
- Create a resume for technical writing jobs
- Connect with professionals through groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, and so on
Before you consider entering a degree program for technical writing, you need to focus on your skill development.
For example, you can build your knowledge of written communication such as outlining, designing, and editing content.
Similarly, you should try to develop a good understanding of complex terminology within the fields you are aiming for. By joining a degree program with some background in these areas, you will have better chances of success.
Don’t think of waiting for your first technical writing assignment to build your portfolio. Rather, you should practice this style by creating new documents for existing projects or programs.
Also, remember that most technical writers select a focus area for their work, which is known as their niche.
The more well-defined your niche is, the clearer your ideal employer or client will be.
You also need to stay up to date on your industry’s trends and latest developments to supplement your knowledge of the field. Staying current on new medical advances, scientific research, software, and technology is imperative for planning and writing your project materials. If you decide to join a professional association, you can use the resources the network provides to stay updated with the latest news for the field you specialize in.
Life of a Technical Writer
Since you have patiently read this article so far, this question must’ve certainly popped up in your mind. After becoming a technical writer, some people tend to get a feeling that it isn’t quite as exciting as they had anticipated. Considering the fact that many new technical writers happen to be onetime journalists working in tech, this is quite understandable. After all, journalism is one of the most dynamic and action-filled professions out there.
However, you can be assured that technical writing offers its own unique flavour of satisfaction as well. It may appear to be rather run-of-the-mill upon first look, but that’s a misleading impression.
Your tasks as a technical writer are versatile and you will come across something new every day. For example, you might be updating an SOP to include recently implemented cybersecurity measures on one day, and find yourself contacting an SME to add a new set of questions and answers to an FAQ page the very next day.
As a result, technical writers have the opportunity of becoming lifelong learners. After all, in order to communicate the content effectively, you need to be (or become) well-versed in that particular field. With every new technical document you work on, you will become more and more experienced with that subject. Although the reader doesn’t have to know all the details, you must have a certain level of knowledge to choose just the crucial elements to include.
Technical writing is a highly prized and rewarding skill. Whether you are interested in making a career shift or adding this ability to your present role, it is an excellent title. Admittedly, it lacks some of the buzz that the field of writing in general abounds in. However, it makes up for that by providing a plethora of benefits and opportunities.
You can become proficient at technical writing by following this guide closely to begin planning, reviewing, and writing. Of course, you must always bear in mind that you cannot simply become a good technical writer overnight. Rather, it is a profitable investment into your career and communication skills. With time and effort, you will certainly achieve success in this field.