Technical Writer Job Description
Technical writers use both words and visual aids to explain difficult concepts, often to nontechnical audiences. Work products for technical writers include instruction manuals, process documentation, and grant or bid proposals. Whether they support internal or external customers, technical writers’ ultimate goal is to communicate complex information in a clear and concise manner.
Technical Writer Duties and Responsibilities
While technical writers may write about a very wide variety of topics, their duties tend to fall into several functional categories:
Study Products and Processes
Much of a technical writer’s job consists of learning the information they need to communicate. This can come in the form of observation, formal training sessions, or other research. Writers may use products or observe processes in action to gain a better understanding of them.
Consult Subject Matter Experts
Technical writers frequently work with designers, engineers, and others responsible for key processes to gain an understanding of their subject matter. The information elicited from interviews and other communications provides the foundation for the final written product, although a significant amount of “processing” is typically required.
Produce and Maintain Documentation
Technical writers produce documents that distill complex technical concepts for a broader or less technically experienced audience. Some are used internally to help train employees or provide uniformity for large organizations. Others, such as end-user manuals, may be designed for a general readership. Technical writers also maintain existing documentation and keep it up to date as products or processes change.
To evaluate whether their work product effectively serves the target audience, technical writers may conduct studies or tests with sample readers. These reveal whether the documents the writer has prepared do their job. The test audience could include company employees in the case of internal process documentation, or customers in the case of product manuals.
Technical Writer Skills and Qualifications
Technical writing demands a keen eye for detail and exceptionally strong communication skills. Employers also prefer to hire candidates with the following additional abilities:
- Explanatory writing skills – technical writers must be able to convey complicated ideas to nonexpert readers with clarity and a minimum of obscure jargon
- Information gathering – whether they’re reading existing literature, interviewing subject matter specialists, or analyzing processes, technical writers conduct extensive research to prepare for their writing tasks. The ability to absorb complex information and compile good working notes is important for successful technical writing
- Graphic design – a technical writer may employ a variety of charts, diagrams, and other visual aids to help communicate technical concepts
- Media production – some technical writers also produce videos or social media posts, especially if they work with external audiences
- Editing – technical writers work together by reviewing and editing each others’ work to improve its clarity and consistency
Tools of the Trade
Technical writers use familiar computer equipment and word processing software. They may also use graphic design software such as Visio and Photoshop.
Technical Writer Education and Training
Technical writers typically have a bachelor’s degree, sometimes from a dedicated technical writing program. However, as writers come from many backgrounds, some hold liberal arts, computer science, or engineering degrees. The degree preferred varies depending on the employer’s industry, as specialized expertise enables a technical writer to ramp up quickly and produce quality output.
In addition to their degree credentials, technical writers benefit from nondegree certifications and continuing education. Targeted programs, sometimes offered through professional associations, help writers keep up with new technologies and trends in their areas of specialty. Certifications typically aim to provide entry-level writers with a more specialized skill set than their prior education has given them.
Technical Writer Salary and Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates put the median pay of a technical writer at $71,000 per year, or $34 per hour. For those with technical skills, job prospects appear good with an estimated growth through 2026 of 11 percent. This increased demand for technical writers arises from the greater complexity of new products used in both B2B and B2C environments. Most technical writers will continue to work in the computer or engineering sectors, although companies in other industries are also hiring them at an increasing rate.
Want to learn more about becoming a technical writer? Check out the following resources for some more detailed advice:
How to Get Started as a Technical Writer – oriented toward those looking to break into the technical writing profession, this concise book focuses on launching a technical writing career. It features in-depth information about skills and training that would be attractive to employers
Developing Quality Technical Information: A Handbook for Writers and Editors – this guide from IBM technical writers puts a major focus on the audience for technical writing output, showing writers how generate content that provides maximum value for the user. The book covers best practices at all stages of the typical technical writing process
The Technical Writer’s Companion – designed for reference rather than cover-to-cover reading, this spiral-bound book discusses the creation of common technical writing documents in a variety of formats
Society for Technical Communication – the STC is a worldwide organization that counts many technical writers among its members. It’s a major source of continuing education for technical writers – a necessity given the rapidly changing nature of the tech and engineering sectors
Certificate in Professional Technical Writing – programs like this one offer valuable training and credentialing for aspiring technical writers. While this is one notable option, many others exist with both classroom and online options
Professional, Technical Writing – this website from Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab contains plenty of tips for technical writers and covers everything from basic business topics to specific products like grants and proposals
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