Becoming a Technical Writer: Job Description & Salary Information

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A technical writer's median annual salary is around $68,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a technical writer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Technical Writer

Technical writers transform complex information into non-technical language that diverse groups of people can understand. Take a look at some of the pros and cons to see if a career as a technical writer would be a good fit for you.

Pros of a Career in Technical Writing
Employment is expected to grow faster than average from 2012 to 2022*
Web-based information will increase the need for technical writers*
Current technology makes for flexible working arrangements*
Opportunity to work with professionals from other countries in a variety of fields*

Cons of a Career in Technical Writing
Stiff competition for new writers at sought-after companies*
Pressure to stay current with new and emerging technologies*
Night and weekend work and need to accommodate colleagues in other time zones*
Pressure to absorb new and complex information quickly in a multicultural environment*

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career and Employment Information

Technical writers are the communication link between product developers and product users. They write assembly and operation instructions, catalogues, how-to manuals, technical reports, training materials and documentation for use by online help and technical support professionals. They are also responsible for the presentation and placement of charts, diagrams, illustrations and photographs.

In the recent past, technical writers worked almost exclusively in print for a limited number of industries. Now, due to new and emerging information technologies, technical writers also develop websites, support systems for consumers and information management systems. They have also started using technical content solutions to solve issues related to business communication.

Today, technical writers typically work in the fields of engineering, science, healthcare and other industries where specialized information needs to be developed and disseminated to a wide audience. In addition to computers, desktop and other electronic publishing software, technical writers may also use graphic design and multimedia software to prepare work for direct publication on the Internet.

Salary Information and Career Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a technical writer in May 2014 was $69,030 (www.bls.gov). The top-paying industries for this position included specialized design companies, information services, wholesalers for electrical and electronic goods, computer and nonessential manufacturers and the federal government.

The number of employment opportunities for technical writers is expected to increase by 15% from 2012 to 2022, as reported by the BLS. Technical writers will find the highest concentration of jobs in cities with a predominance of information technology or scientific and technical research industries, like San Francisco, San Jose, Boston and Washington, DC. Overall, the career outlook for technical writers looks good, especially for those with Web or multimedia software experience.

Education Requirements

The BLS reports that most technical writing jobs require a college degree in communications, English or journalism. A degree in a technical field might also be helpful. Some colleges offer a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Science or a certificate in technical writing and communication that directly prepares students to enter the field.

Classroom and self-paced courses provide instruction in specialized writing mechanics, graphics and technical documentation. In addition to formal training, technical writers should also be able to demonstrate the following:

  • A strong command of the English language
  • The ability to comprehend and prioritize written and verbal information
  • The ability to think critically and solve complex problems
  • Knowledge of computers, electronics and other related subjects
  • The ability to work well with others on site or long distance

Sample Job Postings from Real Employers

Technical writers may begin their careers as trainees in a technical information department, research assistants or specialists in a relevant field. Entry-level writers at small companies may be able to start writing immediately. Those employed by larger firms that follow more standardized procedures may start by shadowing a more experienced writer. Technical writers may work on a salaried or contractual basis either onsite or through telecommuting. The following March 2010 job postings from a major online job board will give you some idea of the degrees and experience you will need to work in this field:

  • A Virginia global defense and security company is looking for technical writers to assist with their Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) in support of the Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity (MCOTEA). This position requires a bachelor's degree, experience with Adobe Creative Suite and experience with Department of Defense programs.
  • A leader in aviation software in Florida advertised for a technical writer with a minimum of five years of experience to organize and write documentation for software products. Preferred candidates would have either a degree in education with a concentration in English and a certificate in technical writing or two years of experience as a technical writer.
  • A computer software company in Florida needed a contract technical writer with a minimum of five years of experience in Microsoft and Adobe desktop publishing programs. This was a graphics-intensive position that required expertise in documenting manuals and automated test scripts.

How to Maximize Your Opportunities in the Field

Technical writers work in an increasingly global community. Learning or becoming fluent in a second language might help to set you apart from your competition. Establishing and maintaining long-term relationships with clients and companies both are key moves for both staff and freelance writers.

As the technical writing field continues to diversify, so should its writers. Learn how to express yourself in a variety of media and keep on top of your Web skills. Stay informed about new discoveries in electronics and high technology. Dramatic growth in these industries translates into greater opportunities for professionals who can write user guides and manuals in multiple formats.

Other Careers to Consider

Copy Writer or Editor

Writers and editors prepare materials for print and online publications, blogs and multimedia formats. Copy writers write advertising copy and commercials to promote products and services, while editors correct content errors and make sure writers meet employer guidelines. A college degree is the usual requirement to work in these fields. The BLS reports that the median annual wage for a writer or editor in May 2010 was $55,000.

Public Relations Specialist

Public relations specialists are employed by clients who want to engage in active and positive relationships with the public. They can work for associations, businesses and institutions of higher learning. A bachelor's degree in communications or a related major combined with relevant professional experience can help people enter this field. According to the BLS, as of May 2010 the median annual salary for a public relations specialist was $52,000.

Web Developer

Web developers oversee the technical production of a Web site. They decide what information will be shown on the site and how it will be organized. A bachelor's degree in a computer-related field is the usual requirement for working in the field. Employment is expected to increase in this field to accommodate the increasing amount of data and number of services found online. The average annual wage for Web developers in 2010 was $79,370.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Science Writing
      • Master of Arts in Communication
    Certificate
      • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Applied Research for Communication
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    2. Ashford University

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    Bachelor's
      • BA/English
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    3. Full Sail University

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    Master's
      • Master of Fine Arts - Creative Writing
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Creative Writing for Entertainment (Campus)
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      • Bachelor of Fine Arts - Creative Writing for Entertainment
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    4. Northcentral University

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    Master's
      • MEd - Reading Education
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    5. Penn Foster Career School

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      • Certificate - English: Comprehensive Skills in Reading & Writing
      • Career Diploma: Freelance Writer
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    Towson University

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    George Mason University

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    Michigan State University

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    9. Penn Foster High School

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      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma

Featured Schools

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Science Writing
  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Applied Research for Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Ashford University

  • BA/English

What is your highest level of education?

Full Sail University

  • Master of Fine Arts - Creative Writing
  • BS - Creative Writing for Entertainment (Campus)
  • BS - Media Communications (Campus)

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • MEd - Reading Education

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster Career School

  • Certificate - English: Comprehensive Skills in Reading & Writing
  • Career Diploma: Freelance Writer

What is your highest level of education?