Technical writing–have you ever wondered if it could be right for you?
We’ve talked about technical writing here on Freelance Writing Jobs before. In this post, I include technical writing as one of twelve high paying writing jobs.
Even in this economy, technical writing is one area where one can still earn good money. John Hewitt, writing at PoeWar, lists the annual income of technical writers as ranging from $42,000 to $63,000. For a senior technical writer, the income range is $56,000 to $81,000.
Fortunately, technical writing is one area where I can share my personal experiences. I worked in this area for nearly a dozen years.
What Do Technical Writers Do?
Many people think that a technical writer’s main focus is on creating user manuals in the software industry. While this is still a part of what many technical writers do, technical writers actually work in many different industries.
Any time a non-technical audience needs to understand technical or detailed information, a technical writer can provide a clear explanation.
Some of the projects that I’ve personally tackled as a technical writer include:
- Creating context-sensitive software help systems
- Creating training materials
- Updating a company’s intranet
- Developing a corporate style guide
- Editing company newsletters
- Researching agile programming technique
- Testing software applications
- Revising and structuring documentation for medical equipment
- Creating flowcharts for corporate processes
As a technical writer, I worked directly with the hardware or software development team. I also attended meetings and interviewed developers when necessary.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Technical Writer?
Most companies prefer that a technical writer have a college degree (although not always in technical writing). In this economy, I would strongly recommend that would-be technical writers have some technical writing training.
Many colleges have technical writing programs for professionals who already have another degree. There are also distance-learning programs available that allow you to study from home. (Be sure to pick a reputable school.) Also, don’t forget that the STC offers informational programs for technical writers.
In addition to formal education, some personality traits are helpful to technical writers:
- Ability to learn new things very quickly. Often, you will be writing about products that are in the process of being created. You may be among the first to use a new product.
- Good people skills. Technical writers often work as part of a development team. They must be able to interact with others to get the information that they need to do their job.
- Attention to detail. Accuracy is crucial for technical writers. Materials that the writer develops must correctly reflect the product or service that they are writing about.
A technical writer is expected to understand the tools that the company uses to create its materials. While Microsoft Word is popular, a technical writer may be required to understand more specialized tools such as Adobe RoboHelp, MadCap Flare, Adobe FrameMaker, and many others. A good understanding of HTML and other web languages is also helpful. (Over the years, I’ve had to learn well over a dozen very different, very specific tools.)
Is There a Future for Technical Writing?
As the information economy expands, there are more and more job opportunities for technical writers.
In fact, according to Web Worker Daily technical writing is number 13 on the Careercast list of the top jobs for 2010. Technical writing also made the most recent CNNMoney list of 50 top jobs.
The U.S. government also agrees that technical writing still has a bright future. In the most recent U.S. Occupational Outlook handbook it states that jobs in technical writing are expected to grow faster than average.
(It’s important to disclose that I live in Texas, a state with a huge technology community. While technical writing work can be found everywhere and some work can be done remotely, the opportunities in a state like Texas may be greater than those in other states.)
Technical writing has a fairly high learning curve. Not only must technical writers learn about the product they are documenting, they also must be familiar with the authoring tools that the company uses, and with the company’s own writing standards.
For this reason, when a company finds a good technical writer they usually keep them on board. Independent technical writing contractors often return to the same company to work over and over again.
Does technical writing sound interesting to you? Do you have any other questions?