Technical Writer

banner-man-working-on-laptop-technical-writer

Table of Contents

Overview

Job Responsibilities

  • Develop high-quality documentation for the target audience
  • Review documents to ensure consistency of style
  • Sort out, write, and edit operational procedures, manuals or documents for products
  • Research and develop document through different mediums
  • Create and establish style guides that reflect company style and to ensure consistency throughout documents
  • Utilize charts, diagrams, photographs, animation, and drawing for better understanding of documents

How Much Does a Technical Writer Make?

Technical writers made a median salary of $71,850 in 2018. The best-paid 10 percent made $114,930 that year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made $43,110.

Common Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree in technical writing, journalism, English or other communication-related courses 
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Strong attention to details
  • Technology savvy 
  • Ability to work independently or as part of a team

Similar Careers

Web Developers

IT Technicians

Software Developers

Computer Programmers

Editors

Interpreters and Translators

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

Public Relations Specialists

Writers and Authors

Underwriters

Common Skills

Writing skills

Research skills

Interviewing skills

Problem-solving skills

Writing style guides

Technical writing software tools

Typesetting

HTML

JavaScript

C#

C++

Python

MEDIAN SALARY

$71,850 per year
$34.54 per hour

JOB OUTLOOK

8%

NUMBER OF JOBS

55,700

A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Technical Writer

The importance of technical writers in an industry is immeasurable. They help a person understand more complicated information because of the technicalities and help teams to understand how a specific thing works–for example, new software–to help the completion of a project. 

This type of work requires a person to have exceptional comprehension skills so that they can translate intricate information into a simple language that anybody can understand. When it is written to an instruction, anybody can read and interpret it with no issues.

Characteristics of technical writing

Like other forms of writing, technical writing has its own distinct characteristics, such as:

  • Straight to the point and easy to understand
  • Use layman’s term language so even an ordinary person can easily understand the idea
  • Detailed and comprehensive
  • Has a form of pattern or logical structure to give readers a clear instruction

What Does a Technical Writer Do?

Technical writers transform complex and technical information into a written material that can be easily understood by a target audience. These written materials are in the form of white papers, instruction manuals, technical manuals, training guides, journal articles, how-to guides, assessments, and other documents.

Technical writers usually work in an office setting as part of a team or by themselves.  They can be found working in fields such as software, government, consulting, telecommunications, academic, health, security, broadcasting, publishing, transportation, and energy–the list could go on and on. Therefore, they must be familiar with the background of the industry they will be working for so that they can explain the complex information to people that have different knowledge.

Job responsibilities of technical writers

  • Sort out, write and edit operational procedures, manuals or documents for products
  • Develop high-quality documentation for the target audience
  • Utilize charts, diagrams, photographs, animation, and drawing for a better understanding of documents
  • Revise document for new updates
  • Review documents to ensure consistency of style
  • Research and develop documents through different mediums (electronic, printed, audio-visual, etc.)
  • Create and establish style guides that reflect company style and to ensure consistency throughout documents
  • Work with other teams to improve the user-end experience

Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Technical Writer

Some people are naturally born with specific qualities that other people don’t have. If you think you would make a great technical writer, there might be some signs that you have missed that would point out that you could become one. Here are the traits of a good technical writer.

1. You accept criticism with grace and appreciation.

You don’t react negatively when someone gives you feedback or criticizes your work. Most people see criticism as demoralizing and hurtful, but some people positively take criticism. As a technical writer, you will be experiencing clients that are demanding and would like you to write documents that are according to their specifications. You can’t blame these clients for having strict guidelines of what the content and formatting of the document should be like as they have a corporate look that they are maintaining.

2. Your are an empathetic.

Understanding one’s situation, motives, and feelings is one of your traits. You put yourself into the shoes of the other person and try to understand them based on their own perspective. Without empathy, you won’t have a clear objective of reality and you will most likely fail to consider your target audience’s needs. So when you create a document of a certain product from the perspective of a particular industry and don’t use their jargon and technical information, your target audience would not understand your document. Empathy will help a technical writer understand the needs of a target audience.

3. You have a good grasp of the facts. 

You can precisely and accurately describe facts to a person. You do your own research on the information that you are receiving, making sure that they are correct, and you do not rely just on the information from a person that they cannot adequately substantiate. Good technical writers are able to understand and break down information into parts, understand how each component works, and explain it to their audience clearly. 

4. You have the heart of a teacher. 

The main purpose of a document a technical writer is creating is to explain how a specific thing works in a layman’s term so that people can understand the information. When you have a heart of a teacher, you have a strong desire to teach, inspire, demonstrate, and build something. You will also find a way to make what you are writing more relatable so that anybody can learn from it.    

5. You dislike ambiguity and disorder.

It bothers you when you see content structures that are vague and not organized. You want the information you are reading to be structured and aesthetically arranged. Technical writers create layers and hierarchies of information, and this is by using headings, lists, bullets, diagrams, charts, and other images that will support the information. They also use the order of importance pattern, which means that the most precedence issue or topic is addressed first before the subsequent topics. 

6. You have the drive to learn things fast.

You are always curious and you want to dig more details on the information that you are acquiring. Some people tend to avoid subjects that are difficult for them, but you have a developed growth mindset that always makes you inquisitive. The more you discover, the more your appetite in learning increases. Technical writers are fast learners. They quickly understand complex information and can explain them to people clearly in simple words.

remote-job-freelance-technical-writer

How Do You Become a Technical Writer?

The requirements to become a technical writer have no rules and aren’t set in stone. In fact, a high school degree is a minimum education requirement to qualify you for a technical writer position, as long as you have the skills and knowledge to do the job. However, most employers would typically prefer candidates who possess the following:

1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree  

Employers usually hire candidates that have obtained a bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, or other communication-related courses. They also consider candidates who have a background in technical subjects such as engineering, computer science, or even medicine. Web designing is also growing its popularity as there is an in-demand need for online technical documentation. Thus, students may choose a double major or a certificate in the field of their interests.

There are also some schools that offer bachelor’s degrees in technical and professional writing programs to students that are interested in pursuing education in writing and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.) These programs give students an introduction to what technical writers do, such as writing, editing, and designing documents.

2. Obtain an associate degree in technical writing  

An associate degree is an education for the undergraduate level who wants to gain basic technical knowledge for employment or add additional skills and knowledge in their chosen technical writing career. Aspiring technical writers who opt to take an associate degree program will have an edge in getting hired as they will learn tips, practice their technical writing, edit, and learn how to design professional materials.

3. Learn software and technology in preparing documents  

Technical writers do not just need to be good in writing; they also need to be a technology savvy as well. Part of their job is to create, format, and layout the content of the documents based on the client’s requirements and specifications. They must be familiar with software like Madcap Flare, Microsoft Office Suite, Microsoft Visio, Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe FrameMaker, and Lotus Notes. Learning how to use certain codes will also help them for the technical writing job–such codes are C++, C#HTMLXMLPython, and Javascript.

4. Gain professional experience  

You can volunteer for the sake of getting experience or work part-time for a business. Having hands-on experience as a technical writer is essential because it will help develop transferable skills for the workplace. Other reasons why you should have hands-on experience are:

  • Be introduced to the real work setting of a technical writer
  • Learn and identify your own strengths and skills
  • Helps you build your own network in the industry
  • Demonstrates your character and interest to your potential employer
  • Sets you apart from the rest of the candidates

What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Technical Writer?

All professions require specific skills to become successful in a particular field. These are some of the important knowledge and skills a technical writer must possess.

Writing skills

Technical writers should be, well, good in writing. The content in documentation should be clear and understandable, and this can only be achieved if the writer is skilled. When you are good at writing, you are also good at teaching because you can explain complicated information and make content clearer. You can also explain the instructions and other important details in a logical structure, making the document clearly understood by the readers.

Research skills

This is the ability to thoroughly search, extract information, evaluate, and study a topic. By having research skills, the technical writer is able to interpret the information using reliable sources. You have the ability to think about what information will be included and excluded and which information is critical and related to a certain topic.

Problem-solving skills

Technical writers are good at finding answers to questions and fixing problems that arise. Often times, technical writers encounter or discover problems while they are creating the documentation of a product. Instead of becoming frustrated and giving up in finding a solution, what they do is solve their problems by using their research skills, as well as record the problem to document the potential problems future users would experience. 

Interviewing skills

Technical writers don’t just work on their own when they write product documentation. They also work closely with subject matter experts in business (also known as SMEs) and gather important information by conducting an interview. The SMEs are people who have in-depth knowledge of a particular technology or process. Here are some tips that you may follow that could help you in conducting interviews with SMEs.

  • Prepare your interview questions beforehand. 
  • Develop an effective agenda meeting.
  • Keep your interview short but pleasant, discussing the important and relevant topics only.
  • Interviews should be structured in a formal situation.
  • Listen, take down notes, or record the interview.
  • Draft summary minutes and operational conclusions.

Technical proficiency

You should have the technical ability and knowledge to complete a task. These skills are usually related to information technology, mechanical, scientific, or mathematical tasks–for example, being an expert in engineering or programming languages such as HTML, Java, or PHP. Having the ability to use technical writing tools such as Acrobat, mark-ups, typesetting, Hemingway, FrameMaker, and Visio is also part of technical proficiency that a technical writer should know.

Choosing a school where you will start to pursue a career in technical writing should help you become whatever you want to be. Schools should not only expand your knowledge but also help mold you to become a better person and leader. Choosing the right school depends on your priorities and interests. Here is the list of the top 50 best colleges with professional and technical writing degrees in America(2020)

  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • University of Texas – Austin
  • University of Georgia
  • Purdue University
  • Michigan State University
  • Yeshiva University
  • Texas Christian University
  • Michigan Technological University
  • Denison University
  • Iowa State University
  • Baylor University
  • James Madison University
  • Arizona State University
  • Washington State University
  • University of Cincinnati
  • Drake University
  • Miami University
  • Ohio Northern University
  • New Mexico Tech
  • Missouri University of Science & Technology
  • DePauw University
  • Texas Tech University
  • Marquette University
  • Temple University
  • Point Loma Nazarene University
  • Calvin College
  • University of Evansville
  • San Diego State University
  • Cedarville University
  • Ohio University
  • Augustana College – Illinois
  • Taylor University
  • Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  • Fox Valley Technical College
  • University of Colorado Denver
  • Juanita College
  • Berea College
  • Valparaiso University
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Arizona State University – Downtown Phoenix Campus
  • Eastern Mennonite University
  • Goshen College
  • University of North Texas
  • Limpscomb University
  • Mississippi College
  • University of North Dakota
  • University of Michigan – Dearborn
  • Dordt College
  • Western Michigan University
technical-writer-accounting-financial-meeting-technical-writer

How to Get a Job as a Technical Writer

It has been easy to find jobs these days compared to before when we do not have the Internet and need to personally go to companies, bombarding them to submit your application–even if you are not sure if they are hiring or not. Job seekers have now found creative and easy ways to snag their dream careers. Here are a few simple tips.

Search for job openings online

Using job search engines is the easiest and convenient way of finding a job as a technical writer. You will find a lot of job opportunities working for big companies or even working in the comfort of your home. Here are some of the top job search engines sites that you can try.

Create your job listings

If you are serious about finding a job, creating and organizing your own job listing would definitely be a help, especially if you are applying to numerous companies. Also, it will help you track your application and send follow-up messages regarding the status of your application.  

Networking

Most jobs are not advertised; therefore, having a network in the technical writing industry will help you locate a job opportunity. There are two types of networking: personal and online. You can establish personal networking through friends and family members who are in the same field as you are. You can also connect with other technical writers by attending events or joining groups. There are also various online tools that you can use to build your professional network like LinkedIn. You can also meet other technical writers using social networking sites like Facebook.  

Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

Geographic areas often have location pay differentials, making a significant impact on your potential earnings. Some states offer a higher salary and some with a lower wage to technical writers. 

Here’s a list of the average mean of annual revenues of technical writers in every state according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics dated 2018:

CaliforniaCalifornia
State2018 Mean Annual Wage
Massachusetts$89,630
Washington$86,470
Virginia$85,450
New Jersey$84,280
Connecticut$81,290
Colorado$80,250
Maryland$80,130
Delaware$77,010
New Mexico$76,640
New York$76,380
North Carolina$76,070
New Hampshire$76,020
Georgia$75,170
Texas$75,000
Vermont$74,730
Alaska$72,250
Kentucky$71,610
Pennsylvania$70,060
Alabama$69,970
Arizona$69,580
Illinois$69,320
Michigan$68,580
Oregon$68,320
Louisiana$68,120
State2018 Mean Annual Wage
Mississippi$67,680
Rhode Island$67,200
South Carolina$67,000
Minnesota$66,970
Utah$66,940
Tennessee$66,080
Nevada$66,040
Indiana$65,130
Maine$65,030
Wyoming$64,010
Ohio$63,340
Florida$62,710
Hawaii$62,070
Kansas$62,020
Idaho$61,710
Arkansas$61,030
Nebraska$60,580
Wisconsin$59,480
Missouri$58,840
Oklahoma$57,450
Iowa$57,060
North Dakota$56,140
Montana$55,700
South Dakota$50,320
West Virginia$40,210

Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Make Your Resume Stand Out

Your resume is proof of your background and qualification for the job. The technical writer’s resume is a bit different from other resume layouts since the job itself calls for strong communication and technical skills. Although you got the right educational background and experience, most hiring managers will evaluate your technical writing skills from your resume alone. So how do you write a technical writer resume? Here are some tips.

1. Start with a resume header

A resume header is placed at the top part of your resume. It includes your name, location, phone number, email address, and LinkedIn ID (optional). Take time to format your resume header correctly. 

Start with your name, and make it the most visible part of your resume or resume header. Use big fonts (example 14-16 points) or even use a different font color to make your name stand out. Don’t forget to use proper spacing as well.

At the bottom part of your name should be your resume title. It is your work profile or what you do professionally e.g., Technical Writer. The font used should be smaller than your name (example 1 or 2 points smaller than the name of your font, or use a regular size font). You can also use a different font color if you prefer.

For your address, you do not need to include everything–simply list your city or region. Employers just want to check if you live near their office.

The phone number that you will be using for your application should be widely accessible, ideally with a voicemail set up in case you miss their call.

Lastly, use a professionally-looking email address containing your first and last name.

2. Add a strong resume summary statement

Technical writers are good at summarizing a lot of information into a condensed version that explains all the main points.

A resume summary statement is a short paragraph composed of two to three sentences that highlights your qualifications and experiences. This should be placed at the beginning of your resume so that the hiring manager would have a glimpse of what you offer before diving into your resume. 

Hiring managers receive a lot of resumes, and writing a strong resume summary at the beginning of your resume will help you stand out from the rest of the applicants. Resume summary statements are also referred to:

  • Career summary
  • Personal statement
  • Executive resume summary
  • Qualifications summary
  • Competencies
  • Summary of experience
  • Professional summary
  • Summary of qualifications

3. Create an impressive work experience section

The work experience section is the most crucial part of a resume because it explains your previous jobs and experiences. So how do you write an impressive work experience? You should write a short story proving how well you did. This is by highlighting your achievements and not just your duties and responsibilities.

4. List technical writing-related skills 

You need to be specific with the skills that will be included in your resume, bearing in mind that those skills should be related to technical writing. Here are some of the commonly required skills in technical writing.

Research and writing skills:

  • Writing style guides
  • Proofreading
  • Content review
  • AP stylebook
  • APA style
  • Chicago manual style
  • The New York Times manual of style and usage
  • Charts, diagrams, and infographics creation
  • Statistics interpretation
  • Help and FAQs docs
  • Establish and maintain SOPs

Technical writing tools:

  • Acrobat
  • Mark-ups
  • Typesetting
  • Hemingway
  • FrameMaker
  • Visio
  • Microsoft Office- SharePoint
  • Camtasia
  • Flare
  • SnagIt
  • RoboHelp
  • Marking Head Levels
  • Marking Color Breaks
  • Captivate
  • CMS
  • Working Sketches

Technical documentation:

  • Design Guidelines
  • Legal Policy
  • Instructional documents
  • Process Improvement
  • Project Management
  • Quality Assurance
  • Marketing communications
  • Software Development
  • Programmer Code Illustrations
  • Business Development Initiatives

5. Pay attention to the formatting of your resume

The format of your resume should not be copied from someone else’s resume. Some hiring managers check the metadata of a resume. This is to see if the applicant originally made the format of the resume. They also check the line spacing, indentation, and word spaces if it is an easy-to-read format.

Ace Your Technical Writer Interview

An interview is a common requirement when applying for a job position. There are a lot of qualified candidates who lose their chance of getting hired because of a bad interview. Therefore, you must prepare. Here are a few interview questions for technical writer candidates.

1. Why do you want to work as a technical writer? 

What the interviewer wants to know is how passionate you are as a technical writer. For some, technical writing is a dull job because you will be writing different kinds of reports, instructions, and product descriptions. 

You should convince the interviewer enthusiastically that you enjoy the tasks of a technical writer and not just because the job pays well. You can also demonstrate your skills and strengths in technical writing that makes you the best candidate to hire.

2. What are the technical writing software tools you are using? 

Technical writers also use software tools to help them create, design, manipulate images, draw, and publish documentation that they can easily customize and edit. The more you know how to use different technical writing software, the more you will leave a good impression on your interviewer. Some of the most popular tools are WordPressMediaWikiMagLoftCalameoWhatfixoXygen XML authorAtavistPreziMadCap Flare, etc.

3. What citation style are you most familiar with?

It is essential for technical writers to be familiar with different citation styles for reference as they use that for more advanced projects. Citations are a way of giving credit to the source of information to avoid plagiarism. The most common style technical writers are using is the American Psychological Association (APA) citation style. In answering this question, you must do research on what citation style your potential employer prefers to use.

3. What are your strengths as a technical writer? 

Put yourself in the employer’s shoes. If you were to hire a technical writer, what are the good qualities you’d be looking for? Some of the top characteristics of a good technical writer are: 

  • Dedication to work
  • Ability to comply with guidelines
  • Quality research 
  • Accurate
  • Concise

4. What are the usual challenges a technical writer faces in work?  

There are different challenges a technical writer usually deals with. It can be:

  • Dealing with a difficult colleague
  • Gathering information and  sources
  • Interviewing SMEs
  • Meeting tight deadlines
  • Vague product information

What the interviewer wants to know is how you approach the challenges. Recall an issue that you have resolved and you think was a success. Explain the process or methods you used to solve the problem. Highlight what you have learned from that experience and how it helped you grow as a technical writer.

Top Online Courses for Aspiring Technical Writers

Sharpen your skills in technical writing by taking these top online courses

Skills Success has carefully curated and organized thousands of online video courses. Start your journey to becoming a technical writer with these top online courses.

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