What is a Technical Writer?
Technical writing is the art of conveying complex information to an audience with varying amounts of familiarity
with the subject.
Technical writers, also known as technical communicators, might be employed in a number of fields, which range from manufacturing to the sciences to the Internet industry.
They use their expertise to write everything from how-to guides and journals to instruction manuals and supporting documents like FAQ pages.
“I've always had a great love of writing and figuring things out,” says Adriane Hunt, president of the Society for Technical Communication. “I enjoyed all things technical.”
After earning a degree in English literature, Hunt got an internship at an engineering magazine.
Later, she scored a job as a junior technical writer at a company that specialized in hardware and software documentation.
Thirty years later, Hunt is still enjoying the challenge and satisfaction that technical writing offers.
In addition to sitting down and writing, the job of a technical writer involves working with a team to determine both the needs of their users and the best way to reach them, whether that might be through an online video, a hard-copy manual or social media.
They'll also coordinate with their technical staff, designers and product developers.
“Technical writers are integral to the success of a product,” Hunt says. “It's absolutely a team effort.”
As web-based, scientific and technical products proliferate, so will the need for more technical writers.
In fact, the BLS expects 5,700 new jobs to open up in the field of technical writing from 2016 to 2026 at a rate of nearly 11 percent, which is faster than the average growth for all jobs.
What Type of Education Do Need?
Technical writers generally need a bachelor's degree in a field such as journalism or English.
Hunt notes that a growing number of universities are offering technical communication programs.
Some employers prefer to hire job candidates who have expertise in a certain area, such as engineering, medicine or science, in addition to a background in writing. Internships are a good way to acquire this expertise.
How to Get a Job as a Technical Writer
The job of a technical writer requires good writing skills and technical expertise. It's a unique skill set.
But resumes that stand out showcase both excellent writing skills and any related experience to the field in which an applicant is hoping to work.
Hunt says internships are helpful for two reasons: They show students whether a career in technical writing is the right career for them, and they provide that advantageous “previous experience” line item on a resume.
Hunt says this job is for “people who really like to figure things out – people who like to dig in and figure out what users need.”
They ask themselves questions like, “How do I get into their heads? How can they use our software to solve a problem or complete a task? Why can this particular feature help them solve a business problem?”
What is the Job Like?
The BLS reports that professional, scientific and technical services employ 39 percent of technical writers, while the fields of manufacturing and publishing employ 15 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
Most technical writers work full-time schedules, and a smaller portion work on a freelance basis.
A career in technical writing is much more dynamic than sitting by yourself in a cubicle and writing.
There's a lot of interaction between the technical writers and the product developers and designers.
Hunt works for a business that uses an agile approach to project management, in which the technical writers work on smaller portions of content for a set amount of time, say two weeks. “It's very fast-paced,” she says.
The job is not without its stresses. Technical writers have to become subject-matter experts on their specialty. There's a steep learning curve, in some cases. “But if you love to learn, that makes the job really enjoyable,”