Technical writers have a crucial job: no matter what they’re writing, they must communicate complex information in an easy-to-understand way. They must also master a variety of communication channels, from software documentation and reference guides to press releases and social media.
For those who adopt the necessary skills, technical writing can prove a profitable career. According to Lightcast, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, the median salary for a technical writer is $66,978; those with more than nine years of experience can earn close to $90,000 per year.
But there are also the job’s intangible benefits, most notably the ability to give people the information they need to make informed decisions and use technology in a way that works for them. With all that in mind, what skills do technical writers need to learn?
If you’re curious about a technical writer career, consider a free technical writing course. Companies and industries also utilize specific, often highly specialized language; here are some industry-specific sample documents that show what’s required in many instances (for example, an API breakdown requires a different set of considerations than a press release). Tech companies like IBM and Apple have their own style guides.
Technical writers must often interview tech professionals (such as engineers or software developers) about the product; they’ll also need to do their own research. In addition to good interviewing and researching skills, technical writers must grasp complex topics and reduce them to the essentials, especially if they’re writing an instruction manual or software documentation.
Ultimately, writing is like anything else: the only way to get better is to practice as much as you can. Join a writing group or collective; groups such as the Society for Technical Communication have communities and resources you can use to make connections, network, and improve your craft. There are also groups on Reddit and Facebook.
Whatever your writing ability, technical writers must absolutely possess “soft skills” such as communication and empathy. Technical writers spend a lot of their time talking to stakeholders (i.e., the engineers or scientists who actually designed the product you’re writing about) and trying to translate whatever’s said into something that’s easily understood. Building a rapport with your subject is essential in such circumstances.
Technical writers must also negotiate their contracts, figure out a scope of work, and report their results to their manager or client—all of which demands fine soft skills.
Do You Need Technical Knowledge?
If you have a technical or scientific background, that can help you stand out in a crowded field of applicants for a technical writing job. However, many companies and clients want a clear communicator more than someone with deep technical knowledge; if you have a track record of great technical writing, that implies you have the research, interviewing, and writing skills to neatly boil down even the most complex technical topics.
Whatever your skills, make sure you list them on your technical writer resume. If you already have some experience as a technical writer, make sure your resume shows how your efforts have led to measurable improvements in companies’ ability to engage and talk to users.
“Often technical writing is seen as a necessary evil of product support,” Ger Doyle, senior vice president, Experis, Digital and Business Innovation at Manpower Group, recently told Dice. “Being able to identify measurable impact, say by reducing support calls by X% created by their deliverables, will set them apart from other candidates.”
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