Professional technical writers represent a valuable resource for managers and technical staff for accomplishing their communications goals, as technical writers create manuals, online help, white papers, project plans, design specifications, and software test plans. With a rise in e-learning, they are also asked to create online training material. Technical writers also assist manufacturers, designers, companies, and clients in developing technical information. Computer and engineering companies often hire technical writers on a full-time basis because they specialize in writing technical topics that include medical procedures, computer applications and environmental regulations.
Technical writer requirements
Technical writers combine an understanding of technical concepts with the ability to write in a way that is easy to understand. Many of the requirements for being a technical writer serve to demonstrate these skills.
To become a technical writer, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in technical writing or a related subject. Your coursework should include business writing, nonfiction writing and editing. It’s helpful to take additional technological courses to prepare for a career in technical writing. You can also earn a degree in engineering, computer science or other technical fields, then take courses in communications and business writing.
Companies will train technical writers on their specific content. Depending on the business, you should receive training in the content and style in which you’ll need to write. You’ll learn more about the types of software and computer programs the company uses as well. During training, you will gain an understanding of the creation and delivery process of the written materials.
There are many technical writing conferences that you can attend to continue training. During technical writing conferences, you can learn more about industry trends, styles of communication and delivery methods. Gaining more knowledge in these areas will help you improve your work and excel in a career as a technical writer.
Society for Technical Communication. The STC offers three levels of technical writing certifications—Certified Professional Technical Communicator: Foundation, Practitioner and Expert. As a Foundation CPTC, you show that you have the necessary knowledge to perform work as a technical writer. Earning a CPTC at the Practitioner level demonstrates your ability to write technical documents at an advanced level. The CPTC-Expert designates your proficiency in the subject. To obtain a Foundation CPTC, you’ll need to pass an exam, while the Practitioner and Expert levels require you to pass an exam and submit a writing sample for review.
American Medical Writers Association. If you want to be a technical writer in the medical field, you can earn a Medical Writer Certified certification from the AMWA. A MWC shows your ability to write a variety of medical documents. To obtain a MWC, you need to have a bachelor’s degree and two years’ experience in the medical communication field. You must also pass an online exam.
National Association of Science Writers. Though the NASW doesn’t offer a certification, you can become a member of the organization. Being a member of the NASW shows that you are a professional in the science communication field. To gain membership, you must submit five samples of work for a non-technical audience that were published in the past five years. You must also have a sponsor who is a current member of the NASW. Students can gain a student membership if they are a part of their school’s journalism or science programs. Once they graduate, they must apply for full membership status.
Writing: You need to have a good command of language to be able to describe complicated information in clear and concise words. As a technical writer, you should be able to write for extended periods of time.
Communication: As a technical writer, your work will involve collaborating with other coworkers and clients to ensure you produce satisfactory material. The ability to communicate with others ensures you can successfully work with others to write documents.
Problem-solving: Some projects require you to figure out how something works before you document its function. You may also have to write how-to instructions. Strong problem-solving skills will help you understand the topic you’re writing about so you can create simple documents.
Online publishing: Many technical writers write for websites and other online media. Depending on the company, you may need to have experience with online publishing software or content management systems.
Time management: Technical writers often work to strict deadlines, so you need to be able to manage your time well. You may also need to be able to write for different projects concurrently, and strong time-management skills can help you stay on schedule for each project.
Are you suited to be a technical writer?
Technical writers have distinct personalities. They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also investigative, meaning they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive.
Technical writers work for a variety of industries, such as engineering, the sciences, medicine, and technology. Technical writing follows a development lifecycle that often parallels the product development lifecycle of an organization, and a technical writer often works as part of a writing or project development team. Technical writers also work together with document specialists, editors, content managers, instructional designers, graphic designers and illustrators, and analysts to produce deliverables.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become a Technical Writer?
Aspiring technical writers can earn a four-year Bachelor’s degree, a two-year Associates’ degree; or a technical writing certificate, which typically takes six months to complete. Most technical writers have a Bachelor’s and most employers ask for this qualification.
What are Technical Writers like?
Based on our pool of users, technical writers tend to be predominately artistic people. At first, the description of ‘technical’ writers as artistic may seem incongruent. In fact, this prevailing characteristic further dispels the myth that technical writing is dull and uncreative. The crafting of language, whether to write a poem or a user manual, is always an art.
Steps to becoming a Technical Writer
The process of becoming a technical writer demands more than a commitment to formal education. Because the field involves ongoing collaboration with experts from many subject areas and often many different industries, it requires a dedication to lifelong learning.
Should I become a Technical Writer?
Technical writers only write about highly technical, scientific, technological, medical, or systematic topics. This is probably the biggest fallacy of all. At its core, technical writing is about conveying factual information, for a particular purpose, to a targeted audience. Producing material for an engineering firm will certainly be of a complex and technical nature. But technical writers create a wide variety of documents, including schedules, training manuals, product descriptions, reference guides, and even press releases.
Technical writing is boring and lacks creativity. Typically, people assume that the act of writing is creative. Technical writing, however, is perceived as dull and boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. Technical writers cover almost every conceivable topic and they can be asked to create anything from a spec sheet for a piece of machinery to a journal article.
Technical writers need a technical background. A talented technical writer does not need to know anything about the subject matter before starting a project. Whoever hires you is the expert. It is your job to read provided literature, ask intelligent questions, conduct research as needed, and transform the materials into comprehensible text for the intended audience.
Technical writing has a very rigid structure. While there are certain standard elements in many documents, the writer is charged with finding innovative ways to present information and ideas and make them stand out. Some material may be rigid or dry; its presentation does not have to be. In fact, unexciting data or info often provides the biggest challenge to a writer’s creativity.
Love of learning If you are one of those people who never reads instruction manuals in favor of ‘just figuring it out,’ you may have the aptitude to become a technical writer. If you like to investigate, explore, and figure out how a product, device, or app works, you have the mindset to learn new things.
Teaching mentality and imagination Being a technical writer means that you need to be able to break down complex information and make it simple. You have to avoid jargon and use language that gives users without technical experience exactly what they need when they need it.
Attention to detail Do you have the natural ability to follow up on details? Are you the one who finds the one typo in an article or notices when someone misuses words? Do you enjoy reviewing, proofreading, and editing your own or others’ work? If so, you possess some of the traits that will help you produce quality documentation on the job.
Flexibility As engineers and product developers tweak their designs, technical writers will be called upon to adjust their related documentation. There will inevitably be times when you are asked to move from one ‘emergency’ to another, and then back to the first one. The ability to adapt and roll with the punches is imperative.
Communication skills Technical writers are seldom authorities on the subjects they write about. In this role, therefore, you cannot be too shy to ask the ‘dumb questions’ that make engineers really think about their answers. In short, you have to be a talented communicator, listener, and interviewer; part journalist and part investigative reporter.
Writing skills This is the core competency demanded of a technical writer. Simply stated, your job will consist of taking technical material and explaining it in easy-to-understand ways. In other words, it is up to you to make the reader feel smart.
Documentation tools skills Knowledge of tools used to produce technical documentation is an asset. Some commonly used tools are Adobe FrameMaker, MadCap Flare, RoboHelp, PageMaker, and Quark. But as already noted, technical writers are accustomed to learning – it is really at the foundation of what they do – and most are capable of learning a new tool quickly and efficiently.