What is a Technical Writer?
When you read the instruction manual for your favorite software or gadget, do you ever ask yourself, “Who writes this stuff?” In case you’re curious, that person is a technical writer.
A technical writer is a professional writer who simplifies complex technical and business documentation for a product or service to maximize reader comprehension. Technical writers produce relevant, accurate and complete information that helps the target audience find what they need, understand what they find and use that understanding to accomplish a goal. The goal can be complying with a policy, learning a software application or following work safety practices. Technical writers can have various job titles, including content developer, information developer, technical communicator or technical documentation specialist.
Job opportunities exist for technical writers across many industries like banking, healthcare, transportation, oil and gas, government, military, manufacturing, information technology, insurance, architecture and engineering. Companies employ technical writers to produce technical documentation like software user manuals and engineering specifications or business documentation like company policies and reports. Technical writers can also be called upon to produce website content, warning labels, how-to videos, online help, FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), test plans and more.
If you’re still in high school, the best subjects to take to prepare for a technical writing career are English, journalism and computer-related courses. Try to learn some Microsoft Office programs, especially Word and PowerPoint.
Although technical writing is not a regulated field, it will serve you well to take post-secondary training. Several schools offer a one-year certificate or a two-year diploma program in technical writing. Depending on the school, you may need a Bachelor’s degree before entering. These programs prepare you for a career in technical writing through a combination of course work and on-site placement. You’ll learn about research, audience analysis, technical writing, editing, information design, indexing, documentation project management and more. In addition, you’ll be introduced to the tools of the trade like Visio (a flowchart tool), FrameMaker (a publishing tool) and RoboHelp (an online help tool).
To succeed as a technical writer, you’ll need strong research and communication skills to gather complex information from various sources then translate it into plain language. You must be a people person because you’ll work with not only writers and editors, but also with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) like engineers, testers and computer programmers. You may also work with people in high positions like your manager, director, or even the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). If you’re the only writer in the company, you’ll have to work independently and solve documentation problems on your own since you won’t have the support of another writer.
Technical writing can be very demanding, but it pays well. The average annual salary ranges from $37,000 to $82,000; and the average hourly rate ranges from $16.00 to $51.00. You can make more money if you have a technical background in engineering, computer science or network security.
If you can grasp complex concepts quickly and have a flair for writing, technical writing may be the career for you.