Technical writing isn’t a regulated profession. This means that virtually anyone can set themselves up as one and start searching for clients or applying for in-house roles. Organizations will do their due diligence. However, you'll need to have qualifications and experience to get the best-paying technical writing jobs. If you don’t have any demonstrable experience and writing skills you’re unlikely to find a job as a technical writer.
For any aspiring technical writer out there, it's relatively simple. Having a qualification in a related field and a good track record of writing technical content will be enough to get you in the door. Online courses are another great option to gain knowledge.
Let’s take a closer look at what you need to become a technical writer.
What higher education is required to become a technical writer?
If you want to become a technical writer, having a bachelor’s degree (or higher) is recommended. Fields such as journalism, marketing, or communication are a definite advantage. Having a technical degree in the field you want to write about is another possibility. However, if you only have experience and technical knowledge, many organizations will be happy to employ you. This can be done without a college degree. A small number of colleges and universities now offer specialist technical writing courses. Choose this option if you want to fast-track your technical writing career.
What licenses, certifications, and registrations are needed?
This largely depends on what type of technical writing you want to do and the specific industry. Most technical writers don’t need any specific license, certification, or college degree to carry out their work. However, some organizations offer technical writers a Certified Technical Professional (CTP) certification. These organizations include The Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE). This can enhance your job prospects.
How to create a portfolio of my technical writing skills?
In your technical writing portfolio, include a diverse range of formats and writing examples. These should showcase your versatility, skills, and ability to use the best tone and language for the assignment. There are many places to post your portfolio when starting. Try creating a personal website or a LinkedIn profile. You can also use freelancer platforms such as Upwork. If needed, print out copies of your work to create a physical portfolio.
What internships and apprenticeships are typically available?
Doing a technical writing apprenticeship or internship is a great choice. It allows you to build up your skills and gain valuable contacts and experience. You'll be tasked with writing a range of technical documentation including user manuals, release notes, and how-to guides. They'll have a look at your technical writing skills and communication skills. Many organizations offer apprenticeships and internships to aspiring writers. Depending on the specific organization, they often last from a few months to a full year. Networking events are usually organized to connect writers to clients.
What advancement or specialization opportunities are there?
There are many opportunities to advance your career as a technical writer. Some writers decide to specialize in one technical subject which gives them the option to become a content editor or trainer over time. Other writers choose a more generalist approach and cover many industries and content types and can remain a freelancer. Over time, they can charge more for their work as they get more experience.
How to build up a network?
The best way to build a professional network as a technical writer is to take on as many writing opportunities as you can when you’re getting started. This will allow you to make a diverse range of contacts. You'll also try out different content formats and topics which can help you work out which ones you prefer. There are also many writing groups and associations that you can join. Just like with most service businesses, the best way to grow your network is through word of mouth.