How to Become a Technical Writer in 7 Steps (With FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 5, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're passionate about writing and have a talent for simplifying technical concepts, a career in technical writing may interest you. Technical writers create, revise, and maintain technical documents for businesses and individual clients. Understanding the path to becoming a technical writer can help decide whether your skills and interests align with this role and plan your next career move. In this article, we explain how to become a technical writer, describe the duties and skills of these creative professionals, and discuss their average salary and typical work environment.

How to become a technical writer

If you're creative and considering a career in technical writing, follow these steps on how to become a technical writer:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Start your career by completing a university program in English, journalism, scientific writing, or technical communications. You can also earn a bachelor's degree in specializations, such as computer science or engineering. Completing a university degree helps you gain comprehensive knowledge of your field. Regardless of the program you choose, seek to develop the ability to communicate ideas and principles clearly.

2. Choose a niche

While you can work in various industries, specializing in a field may be more effective for your career advancement. For example, if you studied computer science, you may work as a technical writer in technology. Choosing a field can offer direction when looking for job opportunities. Deciding whether you want to work as a freelancer or an employee is also another consideration. While freelancers work flexible hours and write about a wide range of topics, employees typically work regular nine-to-five hours and create documents on similar topics.

3. Gain technical writing experience

Many employers require you to have professional experience writing technical documents, such as manuals, user guides, instructions, and journal articles. Consider internships and entry-level roles to develop your skills. You can also create personal projects for existing products and services and request feedback from experienced technical writers.

4. Create a detailed portfolio

As you become confident in your skills, collect samples of your best projects to show clients who require your services. You can include practice documents, university assignments, and side projects you worked on in your portfolio. Listing a wide range of technical documents with different writing styles shows your versatility. As employers consult your portfolio when making hiring decisions, it's important you highlight your writing skills and ability to adapt to the preferred style.

5. Build your professional network

Develop valuable connections with experienced technical writers, authors, and copywriters. You can meet industry experts at networking events and conferences, discover community projects to work on, or get job opportunities. Building your network by participating actively on professional networking platforms can also help you improve your reputation among established writers. Ensure you maintain a professional and mutually beneficial relationship with your contacts.

6. Develop your industry knowledge

As the technology, writing, and research communities continue to grow, it's essential you stay current with writing trends and developments in your niche. Doing this can help you expand your knowledge and become more competitive. For example, if you want to work as a medical technical writer, you can expand your medical knowledge using online resources.

7. Consider technical writing certifications

While certifications are optional, earning them can make you more qualified for technical writing jobs. For example, you can join the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and complete the foundation, practitioner, or expert certification levels to show your competency in technical writing. This organization also has provincial and territorial organizations. For example, Ontario has the Society for Technical Communication (STC) Ontario. You can also join the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) and complete programs in its affiliated learning institutions.

Read more: The 10 Most Valuable Certifications Today

What are the duties of a technical writer?

Regardless of your preferred niche, you can expect to perform the following duties as a technical writer:

  • collaborate with clients or managers to understand the required writing style

  • analyze the target audience to determine an appropriate tone

  • brainstorm documentation ideas to ensure clarity

  • research relevant information to include in technical documents

  • collaborate with product designers, computer specialists, and project managers to understand products, processes, and services better

  • create technical documents from start to completion

  • create and use animations, photographs, and graphics to explain technical concepts

  • review written documents for errors and suitability for target readers

  • publish technical documents

What skills do technical writers need?

Review the essential skills of successful technical writers:

Communication

As the primary duty of a technical writer is to communicate ideas, concepts, and principles, excellent verbal and written communication skills are essential. Verbal communication helps in describing information flows to project managers and product designers. You may also use this type of communication for interviewing industry experts. In comparison, written communication helps in clearly conveying a technical message to the target audience.

Read more: Important Skills Every Good Writer Must Possess

Research

Research skills are qualities for finding solutions to problems or answers to questions. As a technical writer, these qualities can help you explore technical topics in detail. Performing extensive research can help you find valuable information to include in technical documents and organize your findings.

Creativity

Creativity is the ability to generate new ideas or solutions. Working as a technical writer typically requires you to show creativity in your writing and communicate ideas through engaging phrasing. This skill can also help you develop engaging animations, graphics, and photographs whenever required.

Attention to detail

Attention to detail is the ability to be mindful and thorough in your work. When writing technical documents, showing attention to detail can help you present technical information correctly. This skill can also help in proofreading technical content for errors and editing your drafts to ensure language clarity and quality documents.

Read more: How to Be More Detail-Oriented (With Definition and Resume Tips)

Analytical

Analytical skills are qualities for objectively examining a topic and generating conclusions or ideas. They are important for deciding on a suitable way to present technical information. For example, you may decide to use figures, tables, or texts when developing a section. Analytical skills can also help determine the credibility and usefulness of the information you research.

Teamwork

Teamwork is the ability to work with others to reach a shared goal. As a technical writer, you can expect to work with other technical professionals and collect information from them. For example, collaborating with the product designer, medical team, and project manager may be necessary if you're writing a journal article for a medical device. Teamwork skills are also important for working with editors and quality assurance professionals after writing a technical document.

Technical

Technical skills are qualities learned through training, practice, and education. They include the ability to use markup languages to create website pages and technical writing software for authoring, managing, formatting, and publishing content. Regardless of your niche, clients or employers may require you to publish documents and apply your technical skills.

Time management

Time management is the ability to use time effectively. While this skill is valuable to nearly every professional, it's essential to technical writers who create many journal articles, newsletters, manuals, and memos daily. Time management is useful for meeting writing deadlines.

Read more: Why Is Time Management Important? And How to Manage Your Time

FAQs about becoming a technical writer

Here are helpful answers to common questions about getting into technical writing:

What is a technical writer's average salary and typical work environment?

The national average salary of a technical writer is $60,639 per year. Depending on the value you can add, you may negotiate higher pay with your employers or clients. You may also have the opportunity to work remotely or out of an office. Many technical writers work full-time hours.

What tips can help you become a better technical writer?

Here are the best practices to help you become better in technical writing:

  • Be proactive about your skill development.

  • Practise writing regularly.

  • Learn from experienced writers by reading the documents they create.

  • Consider getting a mentor or career coach to offer career direction.

What is the difference between a technical writer and a content writer?

Technical writers create technical documents focusing on the steps and processes to assist readers in finding the information they need. They write direct and detailed content on a product, process, or service. In comparison, content writers write engaging articles. They may create marketing campaigns, blogs, and articles.

What industries can a technical writer work in?

Technical writers can work in nearly every industry. You can find many in computer science, finance, robotics, aeronautics, biotechnology, forestry, medicine, and management. Evaluate your professional interests and passion to determine a suitable industry for your technical writing career.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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