You may think someone drawn to humanities might not consider a career in technology. But there’s at least one career in the tech industry that doesn’t require a strong background in STEM. As tech continues to be a powerhouse in the economy, more products keep hitting the shelves, and every new iPhone, computer and Tesla needs an operating manual, a FAQ page and other documentation. All those new products have led to an increasing need for more technical writers.
Technical writing is not limited to the tech industry. When you assemble a bookshelf using an instruction manual as your guide, you’re relying on information a technical writer has written. Other industries that employ technical writers include information technology, engineering, manufacturing, e-commerce, health care and more.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) describes the job: “Technical writers create paper-based and digital 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. After a product is released, technical writers also may work with product liability specialists and customer-service managers to improve the end-user experience through product design changes.”
Professional writers typically spend their time developing, gathering and disseminating technical information. Depending on the workplace, a writer may spend most of her time in an office or work alongside engineers, experts or other peers with hands-on experience with the subject matter.
Much of technical writing is moving online and through social media and text, graphics, sound and video are quickly becoming tools of the trade. Therefore, any education in professional writing should involve training in those media.
According to the BLS, some of the daily tasks of a technical writer may include the following:
- Determine the needs of users of technical documentation
- Study product samples and talk with product designers and developers
- Work with technical staff to make products easier to use and require fewer instructions
- Write and organize supporting content for products
- Edit, standardize or make changes to material prepared by other writers or establishment personnel
- Use photographs, drawings, diagrams, animation and charts that increase users’ understanding of the material
- Select appropriate medium for message or audience, such as manuals or online videos
- Standardize content across platforms and media
- Gather user feedback to update and improve content
- Revise content as new issues arise
Why Professional Writing in the Tech Industry?
Trained technical writers are in high demand in the tech industry largely because writing about the industry involves understanding complex subjects and specialized jargon. They need to be able to communicate these ideas clearly to a diverse audience.
The BLS has determined that the median income for a tech writer is $70,930 a year or $34.10 an hour. The job outlook through 2026 is expected to grow by 11 percent, which is faster than the average career. Employment growth will be driven by continuing expansion of the science and tech industries and the continuing movement toward web-based product support.
Technical writers are generally compensated better than writers in other profession. The BLS puts the median salary for less specialized writers at $61,820 a year.
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Technical Writing: Is it Right for You?
Amy Castronova, president of Novatek, a leading technical writing service, suggests that every technical writer needs these six skills in order to succeed, including:
- The ability to write clearly, concisely and precisely
- Proficiency with a broad array of computer systems
- The ability to work with graphics and other design work
- A strong sense of curiosity about your subject matters
- Good interviewing skills
- Patience and persistence
A technical writer must be able to assimilate complex information quickly and be comfortable working with people from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds. He or she must understand the audience and convey information clearly and in an easily understood manner.
Some people start their careers in the industry about which they end up writing. They learn systems and jargon through hands-on experience and take on a role in communications. Others come from English or journalism backgrounds and combine those skills with industry knowledge. If you’ve decided that technical writing is right for you, there are also English degrees that specialize in technical writing that can give you the skills that you need to stand out in the workforce.
West Virginia State University offers a fully online Bachelor of Arts in English – Technical Writing degree program that helps students understand the complexities of writing in the business world. It combines a comprehensive writing curriculum with skill development in digital literacy, critical reading, soft skills development and more. With these skills, you’ll graduate with the knowledge to be successful in many writing and communications careers.