Technical writers transform complex, technical information into language that is more easily understood by readers. They may write operating and maintenance manuals, catalogs, parts lists, assembly instructions, sales promotion materials, and project proposals. In the engineering industry, technical writers work closely with engineers to create written interpretations of engineering design that are accessible to non-technical readers. These technical writers prepare technical manuals and direct the creation of accompanying illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts.
Science and medical writers, a type of technical writer, write a number of different types of formal documents which include information concerning physical and medical science. They examine research findings, organize the information, and compose pieces of writing for advertising or public-relations efforts. Many work closely with researchers in order to become better prepared to present data and other information in written form that the public can easily comprehend.
Technical writers should be creative, curious, and have knowledge in a wide array of subjects, including knowledge in one specialized field. They must have a passion for writing, and be able to express themselves clearly, concisely, and creatively. Technical writers need to have a good sense of ethics and judgment, as they often have to make important decisions regarding the material they publish. Self-motivation and perseverance are also important qualities.
In 2002, technical writers earned a median annual salary of $50,580. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $30,270, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $80,900.
Training and Education
Technical writing positions usually require, at the very minimum, a college degree, typically in communications, journalism, or English, although some employers prefer a broad liberal arts background. More and more technical writing jobs require a degree in a specialized field, such as engineering, business, or science. People who have good writing skills can often acquire this specialized knowledge on the job. Or they may transfer from jobs as technicians, scientists, engineers, or research assistants. Valuable writing experience can be gained at high school and college newspapers, literary magazines, community newspapers, and radio and television stations. Internships at magazines, newspapers, and broadcast stations can also be very advantageous. Interns usually write short pieces, conduct research and interviews, and learn about the business.
Technical writers just starting out in small firms may begin writing material immediately. However, these small organizations can be limited in opportunities for advancement, and they may not have the resources to hire writers full-time. For this reason, many technical writers freelance with small organizations on a project-by-project basis. Larger firms usually have a more formal structure. Newly hired employees have designated responsibilities, including researching, fact checking, or copy editing.. Promotion to full-scale technical assignments and more important material sometimes comes slowly.
In 2002, technical writers held about 50,000 jobs. More than half worked in the various sectors of the information industry.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of technical writers is expected to increase about as fast as the average, although technical writers are also expected to have some of the best job prospects within the field of writing and editing. Demand for employees who can convert technical information into understandable language will be driven by growth in the fields of scientific and technical information. Extremely fast growth in the high-technology and electronics industries will create a need for more users’ guides, instruction manuals, and training materials.
For more information on a career as a technical writer, please see our directory of schools offering Media Training