What Does a Technical Writer Do?
Have you ever needed technical help with your computer or tried replacing a part on a washing machine? If so, you can thank a technical writer for creating the user guide that helped to solve your problem.
Technical writers, also called technical communicators and tech writers, transform complex information into clear, concise documentation that can be easily understood by the average person. They research technical information to write instruction manuals, reference guides and white papers for manufacturers, designers and clients.
They don’t accomplish this goal in a vacuum; they work with many technical experts to manage the flow of information and create information for a defined audience.
Tech writers also create content for social media posts, press releases and web pages. They use different mediums, such as video, audio and graphics, to communicate with users where they are.
Technical writers work in many fields, ranging from information technology and engineering to medicine and the sciences. Increasingly, tech writers are also needed in business. Most work for an employer, but some are self-employed.
If this important translator role sounds appealing, keep reading to learn about technical writer training and much more.
- Analyze the target audience and understand their needs
- Determine the best way to share information
- Research, write, edit and proofread complex data
- Work with other team members to create and update how-to manuals
- Provide writing, editing and design support to other team members
- Conform to style guidelines for all content types
- Add images, lists, graphics, videos and typography to increase usability
- Collect user feedback to improve content usefulness
How To Become a Technical Writer: FAQs
Technical writer requirements: What are the steps to get this job?
First, earn your high school diploma or equivalent.
Next, choose your path for technical writer training.
One common path is earning an associate degree. Knowledge of or experience with data science, engineering or medicine will give you a head-start. Many writers get on-the-job training to master the company’s preferred communication style, especially if their background is in narrative writing.
Some writers begin their careers as technical specialists, working with team members such as software developers or medical experts, and improving their communication skills along the way.
Some employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree in English or communications. This CareerWatch video about technical writers breaks down the most common education levels and explains many more important details about this career.
Programs for technical writers may include courses in technical communications, research, productivity tools and content management systems. Specialty courses could include computer science writing, medical writing or computer coding. For example, if you plan to work in the IT realm, understanding programming languages will make it easier to communicate and create better materials for users.
Your last step should be to earn a technical writer certification. This step isn't always required, but it will be worth the effort because it provides verification of your skills. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) offers several credential levels, including foundation, practitioner and expert. Medical writers can earn the Medical Writer Certified credential from the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA).
As you look for training, consider that it’s common to specialize in this career. For example, an IT technical writer may create user guides for software applications. Meanwhile, a science or medical technical writer may explain procedures or translate case studies.
How long does it take to become a technical writer?
It depends on which training path you choose. Earning an associate degree takes two years. Earning a bachelor’s degree takes four years. You’ll need one to two years of relevant experience, which can be done alongside classwork. Continuing education is ongoing. (Insider tip: Keep a portfolio of all your work, including any volunteer work, to show potential employers what you can do.)
Is there a demand for technical writers?
Yes, and it’s expected to continue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 6% growth from 2021 to 2031. That works out to about 5,400 job openings each year.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good technical writer?
- Excellent critical-thinking skills
- An eye for detail
- Excellent writing skills
- Able to clearly explain complex ideas
- Great interpersonal skills
- Up-to-date on current technology and research