Technical writing careers are on the rise, thanks to rapid growth in the high-technology and electronics industries. There is a real need for trained professionals who can communicate complex technical information to a wide audience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Professional, scientific, and technical services firms are expected to continue to grow rapidly and should be a good source of new jobs even as the occupation finds acceptance in a broader range of industries.”
This increased demand is reflected in the job outlook for technical writers. The BLS reports that technical writers can expect to see a 10 percent growth rate through 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Salary for technical writing roles is also impressive, with a median annual wage of $70,240.
About Technical Writing
Technical writers are responsible for putting together manuals, guides, articles and other documents that help readers understand technical information about a product or service. They work closely with subject matter experts (SMEs), designers and developers to learn how a product works and then create content for users. Tasked with standardizing content and making revisions based on user feedback, it is important for technical writers to conduct thorough research and become experts about a particular product or industry.
Modern technical writing goes beyond the written word as well. As web content plays a more and more prominent role in business, technical writers “are using the interactive technologies of the Web and social media to blend text, graphics, multidimensional images, sound, and video,” the BLS explains.
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Technical Writing Skills and Proficiencies
The following are among the most in-demand technical writing skills.
- Clear, concise and precise presentation: Of course, writing skills are critical for success in technical writing roles. For technical documents, clear and concise language is important because it enables the sharing of information with diverse audiences. Technical writers can’t assume a specific level of technical understanding for their audience, so their language must be readable and appropriate for different types of users. According to technical writing resource I’d Rather Be Writing, it is also crucial to “define acronyms and avoid assumptions about what the user knows.”
- A firm grasp of the industry and terminology: Technical writers can’t just fake it until they make it. Instead, they should have a deep understanding of relevant industry information. This includes everything from the basics of theory to the latest trends and terminology.
- Proficiency with word processing and graphics software: Another key technical writing skill is the ability to use word processing and graphics software effectively. Technical writers produce documents in a wide variety of formats, so they should have an understanding of tools like Microsoft Word, Adobe FrameMaker, MadCap Flare and more. The specific software depends largely on the organization and industry.
- Natural curiosity and interest: Technical writers should be interested in how things work. A large portion of technical writing work involves researching and exploring how various products function and the role they play in larger systems and processes. Being interested in relevant topics prevents burnout.
- Research and problem-solving skills: Because technical writers have to gather large amounts of information about products before they can complete writing projects, it is important to have strong research skills. In addition, technical writers should be persistent in solving any problems that arise while working with SMEs.
- Good interview skills: Technical writers should know how to ask the right questions to get the information they need. During interviews with SMEs, having strong listening skills and asking follow-up questions is vital for putting together helpful and functional documents.
- Other soft skills: As is the case with any communications career, soft skills help technical writers work successfully with others. Management Help notes that soft skills are particularly useful when communicating with diverse members of an organization, verifying and confirming facts, and understanding the various processes involved in a task.
Becoming a Technical Writer
Employers commonly look for an undergraduate degree in English, journalism or communications when screening candidates for technical writing positions. In addition to a degree, many technical writing positions require technical experience in computer science, web design, engineering or another relevant field. This requirement is why some technical writers begin their careers as research assistants or in other roles in hard science fields.
Becoming a technical writer starts with the right education. West Virginia State University offers a fully online Bachelor of Arts in English – Technical Writing degree that focuses on the functional intersection of business and writing. This program combines a rigorous technical writing curriculum with critical reading, digital literacy, soft skills development and more. Students graduate with the knowledge and competencies to succeed in a wide variety of writing and communications careers.