A technical writer could...
|Make learning to use new gadgets easier by creating clear instruction manuals.||Study procedural steps, like those for launching a model rocket, before writing directions for a kit.|
|Write documentation for cutting-edge technologies like a handheld biometric scanner.||Explore evolving technologies like motion capture to create helpful documents for new users.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Have you tried to install new video-game software or connect a new printer to your computer? Doing something like this can be a little scary because of concerns about what may happen to your computer if you don't do it properly. So you read the instructions pamphlet that came with the software or printer and follow it step by step. Thankfully, the instructions are clear and you are successful with the installation! You can credit a technical writer for creating those helpful directions that guided you to success. The technical writer's task is to prepare documents, like user manuals and instructions, that communicate technical information about a computer or other complex product to a target audience in a clear and concise manner. Another way to think of a technical writer is as a person whose job it is to make our use of complicated devices a little easier and less frustrating.|
|Key Requirements||Strong written communication skills, aptitude for active listening, excellent reading and writing comprehension, ability to speak and convey information effectively|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry, English; if available, computer science, writing courses and clubs|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Faster than Average (14% to 20%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
Some technical writers begin their careers not as writers, but as specialists in a technical field or as research assistants or trainees in a technical information department. By transferring or developing technical communication skills, they eventually assume primary responsibilities for technical writing. In small firms, beginning technical writers may work on projects right away; in larger companies with more standard procedures, beginners may observe experienced technical writers and interact with specialists before being assigned projects. Prospects for advancement generally include working on more complex projects, leading or training junior staff, and getting enough work to make a living as a freelancer.
Education and Training
Employers look for candidates with a bachelor's degree, often preferring those with a major in communications, journalism, or English. Some technical writing jobs may require both experience and either a degree or knowledge in a specialized field—for example, engineering, medicine, or one of the sciences; others have broader requirements, such as a background in liberal arts. Knowledge of a second language is helpful for some positions. Experience in Web design and computer graphics also is helpful, because of the growing use of online technical documentation.
Technical writers must have excellent writing and communication skills and be able to express ideas clearly and logically in a variety of media. Increasingly, technical writers need familiarity with electronic publishing, graphics, and sound and video production. They also need a knowledge of computer software for combining online text with graphics, audio, video, and animation, as well as the ability to manage large, complex, and interconnected files.
Technical writers must be detail oriented, curious, persistent in solving problems, self-motivated, and able to understand complex material and explain it clearly. Technical writers also must demonstrate good working relationships and sensitivity toward others, especially those from different backgrounds. In addition, the ability to work under pressure and in a variety of work settings is essential.
Nature of the Work
Technical writers, also called technical communicators, put technical information into easily understandable language. They work primarily in information-technology-related industries, coordinating the development and dissemination of technical content for a variety of users. A growing number of technical writers, however, are using technical content to resolve business communications problems in numerous diversified industries. Included in their products are operating instructions, how-to manuals, assembly instructions, and other documentation needed for online help and by technical support staff, consumers, and other users within the company or industry. Technical writers also develop documentation for computer programs and set up communications systems with consumers to assess customer satisfaction and quality-control matters. In addition, they commonly work in engineering, science, health care, and other areas in which highly specialized material needs to be explained to a diverse audience, often of laypersons.
Technical writers frequently work with engineers, scientists, computer specialists, and software developers to manage the flow of information among project workgroups during development and testing. They also may work with product-liability specialists and customer service or call-center managers to improve the quality of product support and end-user assistance. Technical writers also oversee the preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts. Technical writers increasingly are using a variety of multimedia formats to convey information in such a way that complex concepts can be understood easily by users of that information.
Applying their knowledge of the user of the product, technical writers may serve as part of a team conducting usability studies to help improve the design of a product that is in the prototype stage. Technical writers may conduct research on their topics through personal observation, library and Internet research, and discussions with technical specialists. They also are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter and establish their credibility with their colleagues.
Technical writers use computers and other electronic communications equipment extensively in performing their jobs. They also work regularly with desktop and other electronic publishing software and prepare material directly for the Internet. Technical writers may work with graphic design, page layout, and multimedia software; increasingly, they are preparing documents by using the interactive technologies of the Web to blend text, graphics, multidimensional images, and sound.
Some technical writers work on a freelance or contract basis. They either are self-employed or work for a technical consulting firm and may be hired to complete specific short-term or recurring assignments, such as writing about a new product or coordinating the work and communications of different units along the production line to keep a project on track. Whether a project is to be coordinated among an organization's departments or among autonomous companies, technical writers ensure that the different entities share information and mediate differences in favor of the end user in order to bring a product to market sooner.
Advances in computer and communications technologies make it possible for technical writers to work from almost anywhere. Laptop computers and wireless communications enable technical writers to work from home, an office, or on the road. The ability to use the Internet to email, transmit, and download information and assignments, conduct research, or review materials gives them greater flexibility in where and how they complete assignments.
Many technical writers work with people located around the world and with specialists in highly technical fields, such as science and engineering. As a result, they must be able to assimilate complex information quickly and be comfortable working with people from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds. Although most technical writers are employed directly by the companies that use their services, many freelance writers are paid on a project basis and routinely face the pressures of juggling multiple projects and the continual need to find new work. Technical writers may be expected to work evenings, nights, or weekends to coordinate with those in other time zones, meet deadlines, or produce information that complies with project requirements and is acceptable to the client.
On the Job
- Organize material and complete writing assignment according to set standards regarding order, clarity, conciseness, style, and terminology.
- Maintain records and files of work and revisions.
- Edit, standardize, or make changes to material prepared by other writers or establishment personnel.
- Confer with customer representatives, vendors, plant executives, or publisher to establish technical specifications and to determine subject material to be developed for publication.
- Review published materials and recommend revisions or changes in scope, format, content, and methods of reproduction and binding.
- Select photographs, drawings, sketches, diagrams, and charts to illustrate material.
- Study drawings, specifications, mockups, and product samples to integrate and delineate technology, operating procedure, and production sequence and detail.
- Interview production and engineering personnel and read journals and other material to become familiar with product technologies and production methods.
- Observe production, developmental, and experimental activities to determine operating procedure and detail.
- Arrange for typing, duplication, and distribution of material.
Companies That Hire Technical Writers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Technical Writer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- BinaryGirl.com. (2000, November 30). A day in the life of a senior technical writer. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from www.binarygirl.com/jobs/techwriter-job.shtml
- Evins, J. (2008, March). Making the outdoors user-friendly. Intercom. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from archive.stc.org/PDF_Files/myjob/jamesEvins.pdf
- Day, B. (2006, December). Robots can't tell stories. Intercom. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from archive.stc.org/PDF_Files/myjob/benDay.pdf
- ScienceBuddiesTV. (2011, June 27). Career: technical writer. Retrieved June 27, 2011, from www.youtube.com/watch?v=VD2UJjJ2p1s
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Symantec Foundation
- AMD Foundation