Almost all the current global industries have an underlying need for technical documentation. So much so that developing such content is a job title in itself. All levels of the corporate and commercial hierarchy need someone to take complex information and turn it into easily understandable content for the end-user. All of that is part of the technical content writer job description.
Technical writer job opportunities are always available - even more so with the arrival of advanced technology (and the need to explain how it works) in just about every workplace.
In case you're interested in making a career out of technical writing, read on. In this article, I'll give a detailed description of the technical writer's job, the required qualifications for it, and how to succeed as a technical writer. If you're looking to learn via video, then see this resource:
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Table of Contents
What Does a Technical Writer Do?
A technical writer writes company documents such as instruction manuals, intermediate to end-user manuals, reference guides, operating procedure guides, white papers, and technical product descriptions.
Writers can work as documentation specialists, creating and updating company paperwork related to training, and developing technical staff.
Depending on their specific area of expertise, technical writers may also write journal articles, occupational outlook handbooks, and other high-quality documentation.
What are Technical Writer Responsibilities?
Here are technical writer responsibilities at a glance:
- Research technical information related to their company or department's field of operation
- Plan technical document development according to company needs
- Compile information by order of usability
- Develop and/or edit the required documentation
- Organize all technical documents into the database and make copies for data security
- Maintain a detailed glossary/library of technical terms and documents at all times
Other than these, some writers may have more specific responsibilities pertaining to their professional field. This makes it a diverse job with varying duties.
For example, medical writers may be required to write drug-related literature and product reviews in medical journals.
As mentioned in the previous section, technical writing is quite a diverse field, and professionals in it can have a variety of responsibilities depending on the company they are working in.
Nevertheless, all technical writers have some job duties that are constant among all professionals.
Here are some of the primary responsibilities of all modern technical writers.
Subject Matter Research
Because they write the very literature that professionals in a field will study to become experts in their niche, technical writers have to be subject matter experts to some degree.
This comes from conducting detailed theoretical research into a professional area or topic and developing content based on their findings.
While conducting subject matter research, technical writers will:
- Gather topic-related information from various sources such as journals, competitor literature, dissertations, whitepapers, and even professional social media (LinkedIn, job boards, etc.)
- Study previously written information on a specific subject and correlate it to their topic
- Discern useful information and narrow their research down to specific points
- List those points in order of importance to the subject
Additionally, writers may interview existing experts or even take courses based on the topic they are researching.
Technical Document Planning
Since technical documents are so vital to the company's operational requirements, writers need to actually plan out their development, instead of simply starting on singular notice.
This means that each document has to be developed with pre-existing knowledge of how many resources it's going to consume, and what will be its impact once it's circulated.
While planning technical documentation, technical writers will:
- Ascertain project scope and resource input based on the complexity of the document
- Familiarize themselves with the subject
- Maintain a work log containing daily tasks for themselves and their team (for senior technical writers)
- Interview internal experts and managers for insight
In some instances, (senior) writers operate as full-time managers for the technical writing team. In this capacity, they're responsible for developing systematic writing approaches for more efficient work, as well as setting timely targets for team members.
If you're interested in learning more about the technical writing process, then I recommend you check out our Technical Writing Certification Course.
Technical Writer Skills
While most skill requirements for the basic technical writers are fulfilled by the qualifications needed for the job, there are some skills that each potential writer needs to develop.
Here are some of the prime technical writing skills needed to excel at their jobs.
- Outstanding Communication Skills: As a technical communicator, part of the technical writer's job is making sure the documents and content they write are easily understandable by whoever it's meant for. This is why technical writers need to have excellent communication skills with an ability to transfer knowledge without resorting to complex content.
- Tech-Management Skills: Since most modern companies (SMEs and corporations) use software for data processing and housing, technical writers need to know how to effectively manage advanced software systems for storage, research, etc. Furthermore, if the writer is employed in a technical field, they should have at least working knowledge of functional software and machinery.
- Related Technical Skills: While it's not necessary for writers to have experience in the area that they're writing about, it's beneficial to have at least some practical knowledge of how certain aspects of it work, from a technical standpoint. For example, an information technology/computer science writer should have experience with a practical cybersecurity implementation, to better write on it.
- User Experience Development: This relates to the point about communication skills, in that writers need to be able to provide the optimal solution for each of the pain points of a user/reader, in their content. In addition to that, it's necessary for a technical writer to address the subject in an effective manner if they want their version of the content to be adopted.
- Effective Information Collection/Research: The ability to conduct research in an efficient and manner is one of the fundamental skills for a writer. This is even more important for technical writers, who need to refine and streamline their search to where they can collect the most useful information about a subject in the shortest possible time.
- Detail-Oriented Writing Skills: While most technical writers work with the ability to insert the required details in their content, the most successful ones know exactly which details will be most useful to the reader, and which information is not as useful in the long term.
- Single-Source Selection Skills: Some projects may require writers to create multiple documents on the same topic, but for readers of varying proficiency levels. This is where the ability to select one good technical knowledge source comes in. Writers need to know which source has ample information to benefit all readers, while also knowing how to spin the content to suit the beginner AND advanced reader.
- Critical Thinking Skills: Critical thinking is associated with non-technical writing, however, it's just as important for technical writers who wish to explore journalistic work. Critical thought will allow readers to discern between valuable information and fluff, and ultimately create content that provides readers with a solution instead of data that raises more questions.
Overall, it pays to be not just a talented writer with a knack for picking out the most important details from a sea of data, but also someone who can then transfer that knowledge effectively to the audience.
Required Qualifications for a Technical Writer
The exact qualifications of a technical writer depend on the industry and company they are employed in.
However, most writers need to have a few basic qualifications.
- Bachelor's degree in English (or industry-specific faculty), with 2-3 years of experience for an intermediate writer, and 4-5 years for senior writers
- Vocational diploma in technical writing or content development
- Undergraduate degree and extended technical writing internship
In addition to the above, technical writers need to have some experience in writing professionally, in either a technical or academic content development capacity.
Candidates with a high-school diploma may also get a job as junior technical writers. However, they will usually be required to attain higher education before they are allowed to progress to senior positions.
Adopting technical writing as a career can be very rewarding for candidates who are interested in exploiting creative content development abilities in a technical capacity.
Faculties such as engineering, medicine, architecture, and business administration are all very conducive to technical writers who are willing to take the aforementioned steps to technical writing success.
In conclusion, if you're interested in a position as a technical writer, make sure to find out which technical content type is suited to your writing abilities, as well as the job responsibilities of the position you are applying for.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some of the most common technical writing questions:
What is a technical writer's salary?
The median annual wage for a technical writer is $50K-$72K+. This varies by experience level but also depends largely on where you live - urban areas tend to offer higher salaries than rural or suburban ones. The top ten percent earn upwards of $100K+ per year, so there's room for growth at all levels.
Is a technical writer a good career?
A technical writer is a good career when you enjoy writing and working with technology. You need a good background in English, an understanding of the subject matter to provide effective instruction on it, and excellent writing skills.
Do I need any formal education for a technical writing career?
No degree is required for this job but many employers prefer or require at least some coursework in communications-related subjects from colleges or technical schools; those that do often have higher salary expectations as well.
If you are new to technical writing and are looking to break in, we recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course, where you will learn fundamentals of being a technical writer, how to dominate technical writer interviews, and how to stand out as a technical writing candidate.