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How Can I Become a Technical Writer?
- What does a technical writer do?
- How do I become a technical communicator?
- How do I get into this field without any experience?
- What are some good reference books?
- How much are technical communicators paid?
- How can I find a job in technical communication?
- I have a degree in English—what can I do with it?
Q. "What does a technical writer do?"
A. Technical writing involves developing and editing technical communication such as user manuals, installation instructions, program documentation, maintenance manuals, data sheets, technical bulletins, writing articles for high-technology clients. Industries that employ technical communicators include computer hardware, software and peripherals, telecommunications, applied and exact sciences, and more.
Technical communicators serve as the bridge between those who create ideas and those who use them. Technical writers work directly with scientists and engineers to translate technical information into plain language that is easily understood by the user. They must be able to convey scientific and technical information accurately and clearly. Technical communication is an important part of business, education, and government. Jobs can be found in diverse fields including advertising, computer manufacturing, consulting, data processing, education and training, electronics, engineering, government, human factors, graphic design, management, marketing, medicine, public relations, publishing, and research.
Q. "How do I become a technical communicator?"
A. This is an excellent career choice if you are a science or computer buff with a talent for comprehending technical subjects and relaying them to a wide or focused audience. You can begin by taking some courses in technical writing and editing at a local college or university. For a list of local programs, see https://wdcb.stcwdc.org/prof-dev/edu-info/#WDCED. Watch for announcements about upcoming seminars and workshops.
If you are already enrolled in college, you may want to join a student chapter. See https://wdcb.stcwdc.org/about-stc/#STUDCHAPS for a list of student chapters in this area. Some companies offer internships or entry-level postions with on-the-job training or will send you to school for more training. Search for Interns on our Jobs Board https://jobs.stcwdc.org/ for a list of local internships offered.
A list of all STC student chapters is at https://www.stc.org/communities/
Q. "How do I get into this field without any experience?"
A. Information: Read everything you can about technical communication, editing, and writing. There are many resources available on the Web. As you read, you will begin to identify areas of interest and strength. You can then focus on these areas and find your niche. It is neither possible nor practical to be an expert in everything.
Education: Take a course, certificate, or degree program in technical communication. There are many online courses available. Also take technical/software courses that line up with your interests. See https://wdcb.stcwdc.org/prof-dev/edu-info/#WDCED for a list of college degree and certificate programs in communication in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. This page also has a list of distance education courses.
Credentials: Organize your resume to emphasize skills and experiences related to the career you want. Create a portfolio. If you have any writing samples, dust them off and spruce them up. If you are an illustrator, graphic artist, or Web developer, put examples of your work on a thumb drive to show to prospective employers. Add links to samples of your work to your website. Having samples available, when asked, is the best way to get your foot in the door. If you don't have a sample, find a poorly written manual and rewrite it, or design one of your own from scratch.
Q. "What are some good reference books?"
A. See our list of career-related reference books for Technical Writing, Communication Careers, and Internet Technology: Webmaster, Web Developer, Web Designer, Content Controller, Content Manager.
Q. "How much are technical communicators paid?"
A. Salaries vary depending on years of experience, skills, and subject area. See the STC Technical Communication Salary Survey for information about salary ranges for all levels of technical communicators. Freelance technical writers can make anywhere from $25 to $150 an hour, and up, depending on specialized skills. But it's not "easy money." Highly paid communicators have years of experience in the technologies they cover and are able to translate complex concepts into easily understood prose.
Q. "How can I find a job in technical communication?"
A. Network with friends who work in the field. Check with your local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication: the Jobs Board has lists of many job openings. If you are interested in relocating, check the job lists from other STC chapters or check the STC national jobs database at https://careers.stc.org/jobs/.
Contact technical recruiting agencies in your area, especially those that specialize in recruiting writers. The Web is also an excellent place to search for IT-related jobs; sites that post IT jobs usually post technical writing jobs also. See https://jobs.stcwdc.org/ for a list of employment resources.
Q. "I have a degree in English—what can I do with it?"
A. English and other liberal arts majors have unlimited possibilities for career choices. The following lists some of the many areas and job types available.
- Business and Technical Writing
- Business administration
- Business analyst
- Computer documentation
- Contract negotiator
- International communication
- Marketing communication
- Public relations communication
- Patent writer
- Personal assistance
- Product design and layout
- Product management
- Project analysis
- Project management
- Research and publications assistant
- Research documentation
- Science and medical writing
- Speech writing
- Graduate school in theatre arts
- Arts administration
- Drama critic
- Play writing
- Professional training in theater
- English Education
- Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
- Teaching in public and private schools
- Ethnic and Cultural Studies
- Community relations or public relations
- Embassy or consulate staff
- Events advisor
- Government and corporate opportunities
- Internal communications
- Protocol advisor / officer
- Graduate school in international relations
- Peace Corp
- Trade negotiation
- Graduate school in film analysis or production
- Positions with television or radio
- Screenplay adaptation
- Script writing
- Internet Technology (IT)
- Data management
- Web communication and marketing
- Web content manager
- Web designer
- Web developer
- Multi-media and interactive web elements developer
- Web server administrator
- Product analyst
- Project management
- Arts critic
- Editing and writing community and neighborhood newsletters
- Journal editor
- Public relations and advertising
- Reporting for newspapers and magazines
- Government and corporate opportunities
- Sports writing
- Travel writing
- Literary Studies
- Graduate school for literature, writing, or teaching
- Professional school for law, library science, or medical school
More information is available from our list of career-related reference books.
Related Communication Career Information
- U.S. Dept. of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, Technical Writers / Technical Communicators
- U.S. Dept. of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET) The The O*NET system is maintained by a regularly updated database of occupational characteristics and worker requirements information across the U.S. economy. It describes occupations in terms of the knowledge, skills, and abilities required as well as how the work is performed in terms of tasks, work activities, and other descriptors.
- Top Business Writing Websites helpful websites for business writers to learn about conventions used for memos, letters, reports, and proposals
- Purdue OWL: Professional, Technical Writing an online writing lab
- "Careers in Technical Writing"
- Technical Writer Jobs in Washington, DC
- Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) The U.S. Bureau of Labor groups Writers and Editors under Media and Communication Workers, which includes 27-3042 Technical Writers.
- Technical Writer labor statistics
- WebProfessionals.org (formerly known as the World Organization of Webmasters (WOW)) supports practicing professionals and those that teach. They are working to keep web-related occupational classifications up to date. At the request of the U.S. Department of Labor, they will continue to support the O*NET (Occupational Information Network) initiative as an important and primary source of occupational information. O*NET is taking steps to update two occupational classifications that are important to the Web profession:
- Web Administrators
- Web Developers