What Skills Do Technical Writers Need? 9 Facts to See if You Have the Right Stuff


Technical writers take the complex and make it easy for users to understand.

Technical writers prepare instruction manuals, how-to guides, journal articles, and other supporting documents. They communicate complex and technical information in an easy-to-understand format.

They also develop, gather, and push technical information through an organization’s communications channels. They are a specialized type of writer.

    1. You Can Find Technical Writers Working in Technology

    These writers create paper-based and digital operating instructions, how-to manuals, assembly instructions, and “frequently asked questions” pages to help technical support staff, consumers, and other users within a company or an industry.

    After a product is released, they may work with product liability specialists and customer-service managers to improve user experience.

    They work with computer hardware engineers, computer support specialists, and software developers. They manage the flow of information among project workgroups during development and testing.

    They must be able to understand and discuss complex information with people of diverse occupational backgrounds.

    2. Teamwork is Part of the Job

    These writers may serve on teams that conduct usability studies to improve product design. Technical writers may research topics through visits to libraries and websites, discussions with technical specialists, and observation.

    They manage the consistency of technical content and its use in product development, manufacturing, marketing, and customer relations.

    Some help write grant proposals for research scientists and institutions.

    3. You Can Find Full-time and Freelance Jobs

    Technical writers held about 55,700 jobs in 2018. The largest employers were as follows:

    Professional, scientific, and technical services36%
    Manufacturing15%
    Administrative and support services9%
    Publishing industries (except Internet)8%

    Most technical writers work full time. They routinely work with engineers and other technology experts to manage the flow of information throughout an organization.

    Although most writers are employed directly by the companies that use their services, some freelance and are paid per assignment. Freelancers are either self-employed or work for a technical consulting firm and are given short-term or recurring assignments, such as writing about a new product.

    Technical writing jobs are usually concentrated in locations with a multitude of information technology or scientific and technical research companies, such as ones in California and Texas.

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    4. Education: You’ll Need a Communications Degree

    Employers generally prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in English or another communications-related subject.

    Technical writing jobs may require candidates to have both a degree and knowledge of a technical field, such as engineering, computer science, or medicine.

    Some technical writers begin their careers as specialists or research assistants in a technical field. They eventually develop technical communication skills and assume primary responsibilities for technical writing.

    In small firms, entry-level technical writers may work on projects right away; in large companies, beginning technical writers may shadow experienced writers and interact with specialists before being assigned projects.

    Training

    Many technical writers need short-term on-the-job training to adapt their narrative style to a descriptive style of writing.

    Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

    Some associations, including the Society for Technical Communication, offer certification for technical writers. In addition, the American Medical Writers Association offers extensive continuing education programs and certificates in medical writing.

    These certificates are available to professionals in the medical and scientific communication fields.

    Although not mandatory, these credentials demonstrate competence and professionalism, making candidates more attractive to employers. A professional credential also may increase a technical writer’s opportunities for advancement.

    5. Skills: You’ll Need to Simplify the Complex

    Technical writers take the complex and make it easy for users to understand.

    Critical-thinking skills. Technical writers must be able to simplify complex, technical information for colleagues and consumers who have nontechnical backgrounds.

    Detail oriented. Technical writers create instructions for others to follow. As a result, they must be precise about every step.

    Imagination. Technical writers must think about a procedure or product as if they are someone who does not have technical knowledge.

    Teamwork. Technical writers must be able to work well with other writers, designers, editors, illustrators, and the technical workers whose procedure or product they are explaining.

    Technical skills. Technical writers must be able to understand complex information. Technical writers may benefit from a background in fields such as engineering or science.

    Writing skills. Technical communicators must have excellent writing skills to be able to explain technical information clearly.

    6. Technical Writing Pays a Higher Wage Than Other Writing

    The median annual wage for technical writers was $71,850 in May 2018.

    The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $114,930.

    In May 2018, the median annual wages for technical writers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

    Manufacturing$74,190
    Publishing industries (except Internet)74,020
    Professional, scientific, and technical services72,900
    Administrative and support services71,570

    Technical writers may be expected to work evenings and weekends to meet deadlines. Most work full time.

    8. Jobs are on the Rise

    Employment of technical writers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

    The continuing expansion of scientific and technical products and growth in Web-based product support will drive employment demand for technical writers. Growth and change in the high-technology and electronics industries will result in a greater need for those who can write instruction manuals and communicate information clearly to users.

    Professional, scientific, and technical services firms are expected to continue to grow rapidly and should be a good source of new jobs even as the occupation finds acceptance in a broader range of industries.

    9. More Resources

    For more information about technical writers, visit

    American Medical Writers Association

    National Association of Science Writers

    Society for Technical Communication

    Tracey Lamphere

    Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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