Technical writers produce instruction manuals and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information for business and consumers. They also develop, gather, and disseminate technical information among customers, designers, and manufacturers.
Technical writers work with engineers, scientists, computer specialists, and software developers to create operating instructions, how-to manuals, assembly instructions, and “frequently asked questions” pages to help technical support staff, consumers, and other users within a company or an industry.
Technical writers typically do the following:
- Determine the needs of technical documentation for end users
- Study product samples and talk with product designers and developers
- Work with technical staff to make products easier to use
- Organize and write supporting documents for products
- Select photographs, drawings, diagrams, and charts that increase users’ understanding
- Get usability feedback from customers, designers, and manufacturers
Many technical writers are contract-based and self-employed, and work from home offices, receiving assignments and contracts via email, fax or other digital methods.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this field is expected to grow around 17% between 2010 and 2020. The median annual wage of technical writers was $63,000 in May 2010.
To work in this field, technical writers usually have college degrees and experience in a technical area like computer science, web design or engineering. Candidates should have excellent communication and critical thinking skills, and should enjoy researching and learning about relevant topics. Technical writers should also be prepared to use the interactive technologies of the Internet to incorporate text, graphics, multidimensional images, sound, and video.
Need to Have
Employers prefer to hire applicants with college degrees in journalism, English, or communications. Many positions require additional experience in technical fields, medicine or the sciences. Web design experience is helpful for the increasing use of online technical documentation.
A technical writer should have the following qualities:
Communication skills. Technical writers must be able to take complex, technical information and translate it for colleagues and consumers who have nontechnical backgrounds.
Detail oriented. Technical writers create detailed instructions for others to follow. As a result, they must be detailed and precise at every step for the instructions to be useful.
Imagination. Technical writers must be able to think about a procedure or product in the way that a person without technical experience would think about it.
Teamwork. Technical writers must be able to work well with others. They are almost always part of a team: with other writers; with designers, editors, and illustrators.
Technical skills. Technical writers must be able to understand and explain highly technical information. Many technical writers need a background in engineering or computer science in order to do this.
Writing skills. Technical writers must have excellent writing skills to be able to explain technical information clearly and concisely.
A newer computer, high-speed – and reliable – Internet connection, printer, scanner, fax, and a separate business phone line. Technical writers often use various software programs, including databases, graphics and photo illustrators, and web design packages. A personal accounting package for billing and invoicing is appropriate for any freelancer/contractor.
An internship out of college may be a good way to start in the technical writing field. Authoring a technical blog or website is another way to show off one’s skill set and build an instant portfolio for potential clients to view. Network with others in the industry and inquire about potential contracting options. If no longer employed, inquire from a previous employer about contract technical writing positions, if relevant. Order professional business cards and create a website or blog to show off your skill set and to provide contact information. Ask if previous clients can be listed as references. Maintain a current portfolio of technical writing assignments, awards, and recognitions.
A growth field, employment will be driven by the ongoing expansion of scientific and technical products and by growth in Web-based product support. Growth and change in the high-technology and electronics industries will result in a greater need for those who can write instruction manuals and communicate information clearly to end-users. Potential for advancement includes working on more complex projects, leading or training others, and more work as a freelancer.
By Dion D. Shaw
Dion D. Shaw is the founder and owner of Homepreneurs
Homepreneurs. New Day. New Opportunity.
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