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The role of a technical writer is a lot like that of a translator. They take complex information and make it understandable for a larger audience. Technical writers are needed in a diverse range of industries. Demand for tech writers is on the rise and is expected to grow 7.36% over 10 years (1). These industries are where data needs to be made available to many different people within an organization. If you have the skills to translate complex information, you should consider becoming a technical writer. In this article, we'll discuss what technical writers do, how to become one, and the hard and soft skills required to succeed. We'll also show you how Fingerprint For Success (F4S) can help you to develop your soft skills using our free personalized coaching service. Let’s get started.

What do technical writers do?

Technical writers have a wide range of tasks they're responsible for carrying out. When tasked with crafting documents, they need to have the ability to research the information. After, they will then translate their findings into engaging and factual written content. The best technical writers can remove all technical jargon and complex terms. This ensures people with less domain knowledge of the topic will understand it. 

Technical writers generally specialize in writing about one industry or topic. Topics include medical, scientific, legal, or engineering. They will then write a wide range of content formats. Popular formats include whitepapers, e-books, and press releases. These help communicate technical information to stakeholders. Popular content includes user manuals, white papers, and training manuals. Most technical skills (such as scientific writing) require research.

Technical writers are required in both public and private organizations. These include companies, trade associations, government departments, and universities. Organizations that require a large volume of content to be written usually have an in-house team of writers. Organizations with a smaller workload will often hire freelancers or part-time technical writers. If you become a technical writer there will be many different work opportunities for you to pursue. Often, these include fully remote roles that appeal to the preferences of the modern worker.

What are the human or soft skills needed to become a technical writer?

Technical writers require a diverse range of human or soft skills. While you'll have an advantage if you already possess these skills, if you don't, don't worry as they can be developed with F4S' free coaching. If you’re wanting to become a technical writer, it’s a good idea to consider if you have, or can develop the following skills.

Communication

Communication is the most important skill. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The best writers can produce clear and concise content that is written in a neutral tone. They can translate complex issues into plain language. While the content needs to be engaging it shouldn’t be overly emotional in tone.

You also need the ability to communicate well verbally. You'll be dealing with a wide range of stakeholders from different departments within the organization you work for. For example, you may need to conduct interviews with colleagues to better understand the topic you’re tasked with writing about.

Detail-oriented research

Before technical writers write up their documents they need to do extensive research into the topic they're covering. This means you need to have good research skills and an eye for detail so the information you present is accurate and backed by legitimate sources. You will also need to know the target audience for the technical field you're writing about.

Many documents you write will be giving instructions to the reader on how to do something. So, if they aren’t accurate it can have serious consequences. For example, if you're writing a how-to manual for fixing an electrical component, it needs to be 100% accurate. Without adequate safety information, the reader could be exposed to harm.

Structured planning

A good tech writer also needs to know how to properly structure information so the key points are logically laid out in an accessible way. While some documents will be read top to bottom, others such as “how-to guides” may only be glanced at or partially read to find an important point. A good technical writer will write documents in a structured way so information can easily be found.

Technical documents include instruction manuals or product descriptions. You'll need the ability to structure the information so it can be read and referred to as a logical system. This will ensure the information can be easily digested. The best way to achieve this is to plan your document before writing it which means as a technical writer you need to have good planning skills. This is important for many types of content, including user guides.

Critical thinking

A technical writer must have the ability to make reasoned, informed, and clear judgments. For example, you may discover multiple answers to a question you’re researching. You'll need the ability to decide which answer and source are the most accurate.

Critical thinking skills tie in very closely with good research skills. It's essential to create a system that you use to research and write technical documents. If you have good critical thinking and research skills, becoming a technical writer is a great career choice.

Develop these important technical writer skills

Having the right set of soft skills is critical if you want to become a successful technical writer. At Fingerprint for Success, we have over 20 years of experience in using people analytics tools to study these types of soft skills. We’ve identified the attitudes and motivations needed to achieve your personal development goals.

Take our free assessment today to find out how your personal motivations relate to these core technical writing soft skills. Once you’ve taken the assessment, you can set a personal development goal. Coach Marlee will then provide you with personalized insights related to your goal. You’ll receive feedback on your motivations and insights related to any blind spots you have. Then you can use F4S’ free coaching to develop your career skills and excel in your technical writing career.

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How long does it take to become a technical writer?

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.

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What are the career opportunities and outlook for technical writers?

If you’re looking into how to become a technical writer, the good news is there are many job opportunities available. This is largely due to the continued growth of software and other electronic products. These are being used by nearly every industry and millions of consumers. Every software program and electronic product needs to have documentation written about it. This will help users understand how to use them. Can you take complex information and make it understandable for a larger audience? If so, there are many opportunities available for you to pursue.

Opportunities range from entry-level to senior positions. Writers can also specialize in one industry such as automotive, medical, or software. They can pursue specific job industries or cover multiple topics and industries. Depending on the specific role, you'll be tasked with writing various documents. Documents include end-user instructions, software documentation, proposals and bids, brochures, and press releases.

Technical writing opportunities exist at many different organizations. These include government departments, industry associations, and more. The continued digitalization of nearly every organization keeps growing. Due to this, there will continue to be many job opportunities for technical writers of all experience levels.

Where can technical writers work?

Technical writers are required by a wide range of organizations. The largest industry that hires technical writers is the global software industry. All technical products require documentation to be written to various degrees of technicality. This is so developers and end-users can understand how the technology works.

Other large employers of technical writers are companies that manufacture electrical products. Products include cars, appliances, and other machinery. Technical writers need to be able to translate complex technical language. They will create how-to guides and other documentation for consumers to be able to understand how to operate and repair products.

When pursuing a career as a technical writer there are a few common career paths you can follow. The two most common paths are to become a freelancer or to get employed as an in-house writer for a large company. If you work as a freelancer, you can start by taking on small clients and getting experience under your belt. Then, you can pursue larger clients in one or multiple industries. If you decide to work as an in-house writer, there are many internships available which can then turn into full-time job opportunities. Once you have developed your writing skills, you can move into editing and teaching jobs within the technical writing field.

How much can technical writers earn?

The average salary for a technical writer in the United States is US$63,545 per year2. However, there are many technical writing positions listed with salaries over US$100,000 per year3. This suggests the most experienced and competent writers can earn far above the average. Unsurprisingly, cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Austin have higher average salaries. This is due to their large software industries.

Most technical writing positions will come with benefits such as 401(k) matching (for writers in the United States), health insurance, and paid time off. Most technical writing can be done remotely or with hybrid working. This makes it an attractive career path for people looking for flexibility.

Freelance technical writers can earn anywhere from US$30 to hundreds of dollars per hour4. Often, this depends on the type of content they write and the industry they cover. If you work as a freelance writer your yearly earnings will depend on how many hours you’re prepared to work. The biggest downside to becoming a freelancer is the lack of benefits such as health insurance and savings. You'll have to take care of these yourself.

Frequently asked questions

How do I get started as a technical writer?

The best way to become a technical writer is to take on small writing projects within an industry you have knowledge of. For example, if you know a lot about the automotive industry, look for clients in that industry so you can do technical writing projects. This will help you build up your portfolio and attract new clients. Being a subject matter expert is important.

Can I be a technical writer with no experience?

If you don’t have any writing experience, it’s beneficial to at least have some domain knowledge about the industry you will be writing about. For example, if you understand software development you would make a good software technical writer. Writing skills can easily be learned over time – especially when combined with online writing tools. Some organizations may require their writers to have prior experience. For example, medical writing can be greatly enhanced if the writer has observed medical procedures before.

Is a technical writer a good career?

Yes. There are many great career paths for technical writers. You can either work as a freelance technical writer or work as an in-house technical writer within an organization. Once you become more experienced you can become an editor or tutor less experienced writers. The more experience you get, the higher you'll be paid.

Is technical writing in demand?

Yes. This is largely due to the continued digitization of nearly every company and organization. This includes the increased use of software and electronics to make them more efficient. Each software program and electronic product requires documentation to be written so end-users know how to operate it.

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Show References
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  1. "Technical Writers - Detailed Occupation." Available at Data USA. https://datausa.io/profile/soc/technical-writers 
  2. "Technical Writer Salary." Available at: PayScale. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Technical_Writer/Salary 
  3. Zippia Expert. (February 15th 2022). "Can a Technical Writer Make 100k." Available at Zippia. https://www.zippia.com/answers/can-a-technical-writer-make-100k/ 
  4. "How Much Does It Cost To Hire a Technical Writer." Available at Upwork. https://www.upwork.com/hire/technical-writers/cost/

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