Main image of article Technical Writer Degree: Do You Need One?

Technical writing is a growing profession: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of technical writers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, with roughly 5,400 new openings every year.

Despite that growth, institutions offering a straight “technical writer” degree program are few and far between. And do you even need a degree to break into technical writing? Let’s break it down!

Do I Need a Degree to Become a Technical Writer?

All technical writers need a collection of key skills: writing, editing, and proofreading. Depending on your focus and subindustry, you’ll also need some technical knowledge—for example, if you’re writing documentation for a cloud service, you’ll need to know how that cloud service actually works.

Last but not least, technical writers also need “soft” skills such as verbal communication and empathy. Whether you’re a contractor or a full-time employee, you’ll need to discuss a project’s goals and parameters with a broader team, provide updates on your progress, and successfully negotiate for pay and benefits.

You don’t need a degree to learn any of those fundamentals. However, a degree in a writing-related field, such as English, can help you stand out in a crowded field of applicants, and assure recruiters and hiring managers that you have the necessary skills for the job.

Which Schools Offer Technical Writer Degrees?

The University of Limerick in Ireland offers a course in technical communication and e-learning, while Carnegie Mellon University's Technical Writing Program (within its Department of English) could be a fit for students with dual interests in writing and STEM fields.

The University of Minnesota offers a bachelor's degree in "Technical Writing & Communication" as well as an undergraduate minor option for the same subject.

If you’re interested in a degree but don’t have the time or resources to earn one, you can also turn to online courses that offer a certificate of completion. For example, Udemy has a number of technical writing tracks; you can also check out Coursera, which features online classes in technical writing from Rice University and other schools. If you’re interested in technical writing in a scientific context, Stanford has an interesting program.

Technical Writing Has Many Career Pathways

Janet Revell, technical writer at, says that, when she was in school in the mid-1990s, she was unaware that the role even existed. “At the time, there was such a thing as a communications degree at the University of Canada, which was a very broad discipline,” she says. “We covered marketing, journalism, rhetoric of theory.”

Atop that broad base, Revell took one class focused on technical writing, which was designed largely for the university’s engineering core. “I took that course, and I loved it,” she says. “My understanding is that today there are some, if not degrees, at least programs that are embedded within an existing degree pursue all that involve technical writing.”

Over the course of her career, she's hired other technical writers from various backgrounds, including those with degrees in English, computer science, and history: “All those disciplines involve no small amount of writing or at least a concentrated organization of thoughts and putting those thoughts into writing, so if you have that experience and if you have that interest and skill set, frankly, it doesn't really matter what degree you have.”

Robin Pille, senior manager of technical writing at Splunk, points out that, on her team of 10 technical writers, degree backgrounds range from history to computer science to English (her own degree background was a bachelor’s in English with a minor in linguistics from UC Davis). “I did no technical writing emphasis of any kind, no computer science classes other than one general education, computer science for English majors-type class,” she says. “And I had never heard of technical writing at the time.”

After working for an educational textbook publisher, she became interested in Agile methodology—and was considering getting a PMP certification—when she was introduced to Revell, which set her on the path to her career as a technical writer.

“We have some fundamentally different approaches inside my own team on how we each do some of the same things,” Pille says. “Pay attention to how you use technical writing yourself. Are you the kind of person who won't read the manual ever when you're trying to do something, or are you interested in how somebody was trying to teach you something?”

Organization, Curiosity, Resourcefulness: Key Skills

When she was recruiting, Revell was mainly looking for skills such as resourcefulness, writing ability, organization, curiosity and a willingness and ability to learn.

If you’re interested in working as a technical writer, and you’re already employed in a different capacity, ask your current employer if you can work on writing-related projects. “Whether that's writing reports for your small team or volunteering to conduct some research and provide a report, if you have the opportunity to look for those windows you can practice and test yourself,” Revell says. “It also gives you the opportunity to decide if you really like it.”

For university students, a campus is an ideal place to reach out into the technical writer community. “In a learning environment of a college or university, you have more chances to talk to people who write as part of their daily job or their discipline,” Revell adds. “Professors or assistant professors might be in a position to offer feedback and advice on someone's writing.”

Pille suggests another way to hone your skill set as a technical writer: dive into the open-source software community. “There's a lot of open-source libraries that everybody depends on—vibrant communities in there—and often they have a great need for people to get into those GitHub projects and start participating," she says.

This is a chance to show your skills and figure out how to best document a project. “Then you'll have a portfolio that shows how through your own passion you've become involved in helping the audience with this library understand how to use it effectively,” Pille says. “I think that's a really good way to get in, too.”

How Should I List My Skills and Education on a Technical Writer Resume?

Every time you apply to a new company, you should customize your application materials for the role. Start off by scanning the original job posting and identifying its most relevant skills; once you’ve isolated those, make sure they’re present in your resume (provided you actually know them, of course; never fake your skills, as it could prove disastrous during the interview process). This technique will help you bypass the automated software that many companies use to scan applications, which is generally keyword-dependent.

Your resume (and to a smaller degree, your cover letter) should show how your work had a positive impact on your previous employers. For example, if you wrote website text for a company that translated into increased engagement, note that on your resume; if you cleaned and edited existing documentation for a software product, and the company saw a notable upswing in adoption as a result, note that, too.

Whether you’re a freelance technical writer or aspiring to a full-time position, developing a professional website with a portfolio of your previous work can pay serious dividends. Include only those projects you’re most proud of; you don’t need to feature all of your previous work. A variety of work (API documentation, software guides, press releases) can also highlight your versatility.

With most resumes and profiles, you’ll inevitably list your education at the top of the documentation; if you don’t have a degree, you can also use this space for certifications and any other kinds of formal training.


Related Technical Writer Jobs Resources:

How To Become a Technical Writer

Technical Writer Resume Template

Technical Writer Salary

Technical Writer Skills