If you're good at explaining technical concepts in a way that people can easily understand, you might make a great technical writer. Nearly 50,000 people currently work in this exciting career, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to grow at a rate of about 17% over the next decade. If you think tech writing might be the job for you, you'll need to gain some education and work experience to compete in the marketplace.
How to Become a Technical Writer
Technical writing, or "tech writing," offers a number of different employment opportunities and ways to specialize, depending on the type of writing you're interested in doing. No matter which kind of technical writing you choose to do, there are a few steps you'll need to follow to get your first job.
1. Get a Bachelor's Degree
In order to start out in this field, you'll most likely need a bachelor's degree from a college or university. Some companies will waive this requirement for seasoned professionals, but in order to be competitive, a degree is essential.
Typically, you'll want a degree that demonstrates your strong writing skills. Traditionally, the following degrees are listed on tech writing job ads on sites like Monster.com:
- Professional Writing
Alternatively, you could have a bachelor's degree in a field related to the type of technical writing you plan to do. This may be something like Computer Science, Engineering, or a hard science like Chemistry. In this case, you'll want to make sure you have strong coursework and a minor in a writing or communication area.
2. Gain Work Experience
These days, it's not easy to get an entry-level technical writing job right out of college. You also need work experience to help show prospective employers that you'll be successful. There are several ways to gain work experience if you haven't yet begun working as a technical writer:
- Volunteer your services for small businesses. If you know the owner of any type of small business, you can offer to create manuals, standard operating procedures, and training documents for the staff. Even if you're writing something as simple as a how-to guide for the copy machine, this is experience that can give you an edge in the job market. It can also gain you a letter of recommendation.
- Offer your services to non-profit organizations like schools, charities, and churches. Do any writing you can that has a technical nature. For instance, training documents or presentations on safety procedures or using equipment are great, and they can pad your resume. Ask to retain a copy of these documents so you can show them to prospective employers.
- Apply for an internship at a local company. Internships offer short-term employment, but they give you great on-the-job experience with a known company. Your college or university will have information about opportunities in your area.
3. Learn the Software
Knowing how to use certain software programs is an important part of technical writing. You'll be creating documents under a deadline, and your employer will want to know that you're proficient with the tools you need to do your work. The following software programs are handy in this field:
- Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
- Microsoft Access for database work
- Microsoft Visio for standard operating procedures and flow charts
- Adobe Photoshop if you'll be working with photos
- Adobe FrameMaker
- Adobe RoboHelp
4. Join a Professional Organization
Joining a professional organization like the Society for Technical Communication also offers some advantages. You can make connections within the organization and get notices about job openings. This membership also offers you something else to put on your resume.
5. Write a Great Resume
An excellent resume is a necessity in any field, but in a writing-related job, your resume has to be perfect. If you don't have a lot of work experience yet, highlight your education at the top of the resume, listing important skills you've learned. Have a writer friend look over the resume to make sure it's the very best you can make it.
In your technical writing resume, you'll want to play up the following qualities:
- Strong writing and editing skills
- Ability to use a variety of research methods to gather the required information
- Interest and knowledge of the particular subject area
- Ability to work as a team with engineers, scientists, researchers, managers, and other professionals to complete a project
- Basic graphic design skills to oversee the preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts
Transitioning to a Tech Writing Career
If you are already employed or qualified in one career and think that technical writing might make a good choice for retraining, you may be at an advantage. This is especially true if you already work in a technical field and have a bachelor's degree. In this case, you'll need to prove to prospective employers that your writing skills are up to their expected standards.
One way to do this is to enroll in an online technical writing course. This can provide the training you need to give your technical knowledge a communication-savvy slant. Alternatively, you can take some professional writing or technical writing courses at your local college or university.
Your Dream Job
Technical writing is a growth area and offers a great salary, and if you're adept at communicating technical concepts, this could be your dream job. Finding technical writing job openings is usually easy, and you can land one of these great positions if your skills and background are attractive to employers.