Career guide: Technical writer

  • Technical writers write the manuals for the products you use.
    Technical writers write the manuals for the products you use.

    Career guide: Technical writer

    You may not realize it, but technical writers help make the world go ’round. These skilled communicators write the instruction manuals for the products and programs used by millions of people around the globe each day.

    Without them, you wouldn’t know how to assemble an item of furniture, navigate a software program or make coffee in the morning. Technical writers don’t just help people use consumer products, however, they write the guides for scientists, government officials and researchers to conduct lab work, use databases and understand other large-scale platforms and technologies.

    Being a technical writer can be a highly rewarding career path for people who appreciate direct and concise communication and want to help others.

    What do technical writers do?
    The instruction manual that came with your new blender? A technical writer wrote that. The online how-to article you frequently reference for using your smartphone? A technical writer wrote that, too. Technical writers are responsible for creating user guides for a wide variety of products and services, from consumer goods to software to scientific devices.

    How do you become a technical writer?
    Technical writing is a highly specific field that requires specialized knowledge of both writing methods and the product being written about. As such, many technical writers first receive their undergraduate degree in communication, creative writing or journalism and then complete their master’s degree in technical writing. They may also receive their M.A. in English with a concentration in technical writing.

    Beyond education, people interested in becoming a technical writer often have a portfolio that they can show to potential employers. The portfolio does not necessarily have to include writing samples of instruction manuals, but should show an ability at writing in a highly detailed, concrete and technical style. If an individual has no relevant technical writing clips yet, one can create samples that demonstrate their abilities, such as a rewrite of an existing manual or a user guide for a product that one uses frequently, according to The Write Life.

    What skills are important for technical writers to have?
    Technical writers should be highly detail oriented, as they will have to delve into the specifics and mechanisms of a certain device, product or program. They must have a knack for simplifying complicated subjects into easily understandable nuggets of information. Though they are writing about complex topics, technical writers need to write in a way that people unfamiliar with a product can quickly grasp.

    Since some technical writing assignments can take months to complete, these professionals should have great time management skills and be able to break larger projects down into smaller steps. Furthermore, technical writers should be skilled at conducting research, as they will often need to speak with the product developers and other employees at their company to understand the inner workings of the subject they are writing about.

    Career outlook for technical writers 
    As increasingly complex and novel devices are hitting the market, companies have a high demand for technical writers to enable consumer adoption of their products. The career outlook for technical writers is favorable – the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the number of technical writing jobs will increase by 11 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the average rate for all other industries. The median pay for technical writers in 2016 was $69,850, and salary can increase commensurate with experience and the market share of the employer.

    Technical writing is a growing field in need of skilled communicators who can make complicated subjects simple. If you love writing and learning how things work, consider a career as a technical writer.

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