Got an eye for detail? Strong writing skills? A flair for research? Technical writing may be just up your street. If you’re wondering how to become a technical writer, what type of writing is involved and how to garner technical writing experience, then you’ve come to the right place.
With our proven expertise in providing quality technical translation, technical documentation and translation of manuals, EHLION is well positioned to provide you with our insider analysis of how to be an effective technical writer, and what it takes to get a job as a technical writer…
What exactly is a technical writer?
A technical writer does what it says on the tin: perfecting communication materials with a clearly defined technical slant. Technical writers are professional communicators who specialize in transforming heavy, information-packed content into manageable, bite-sized portions that are easy to understand and digest.
Typically, technical writers work on a range of document types that might include:
- User and instructional manuals
- Technical specifications and documentation
- Journal articles
- Proposals and report writing
- User interface texts
- White papers and case studies
- Technical emails and correspondence
- How-to guides
- Videos and websites
- Product descriptions
Anything that requires complete mastery of a specific field, and engages in the process of condensing detailed information into a well-presented, clear, and easy-to-read format, falls to technical writers to handle.
What’s the difference between technical writing and content writing?
Although similar at first glance, technical writing and content writing aren’t quite the same thing.
- Content writing aims to transport readers with attention-grabbing headlines and tantalizing text that makes them want to read on. A content writer will work with SEO and adapt to the client’s tone and brand voice to craft text that aims to appeal, draw in, and hold the reader’s attention.
- Technical writing, meanwhile, is purely concerned with producing ultra-precise information in the most pared-back way. A technical writer’s job is merely to help readers understand and apply the information contained within a document as efficiently and concisely as possible.
What makes a good technical writer?
Like any professional writer, technical writers need inside-out knowledge of their target language, with unbeatable awareness of grammar, spelling, and sentence structure.
There are a few qualities and skills that all good technical writers should have in addition to a strong command of their native tongue:
- A meticulous eye for detail: Every comma, figure and term matters in this field, and technical writers need unwavering attention spans and an instinct for hunting down typos.
- Expert writing skills: Clean, to-the-point sentences and use of language.
- Tech-savvy: Up to date with all the latest technologies and lingo, and confident using them as well as writing about them.
- Troubleshooting abilities: An understanding of how things work, and the resourcefulness to hunt out extra details and problem solve.
- Interpersonal skills: At ease in interacting with SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) across all fields.
- Strong research skills: Knowing how to use search engines, databases, and reference documents to your advantage, extracting the information that matters and laying it out for your target audience.
- A sense of curiosity: Staying abreast of the latest developments in your field and across science and tech sectors generally will help develop your skills and terminology.
- Audience awareness: The ability to know your audience and adapt your tone, structure and format accordingly is crucial.
Qualifications and requirements for a technical writer
Getting into the industry isn’t quite as simple as signing up for a technical writer master’s degree, although ultra-specialized technical writer qualifications do exist. Generally speaking, the following guidelines apply:
- A bachelor’s degree is very often required. This can be in any specialist field, with preference given to graduates from linguistics, languages, journalism, science, and technology backgrounds.
- Membership of a professional organization is a good idea. The Society for Technical Communication is one of the oldest around, and offers members access to networking and career development opportunities, as well as certification, webinars, further education and short and long courses.
- A passion for your subject can help mark you out as a go-to contact in your field. Keep learning, and take courses in your specialist subject as well as more practical training in formatting and writing.
- Savvy use of everything social media has to offer is a must. Raise your profile by connecting with others working in relevant companies. Consider writing guest posts on blogs and starting your own, too.
- A taste for freelancing freedom and business skills are crucial, as more and more companies shift away from in-house writing staff, preferring instead to work with technical writers on an as-and-when basis. You’ll need solid entrepreneurial skills to get your business off the ground, learn to prospect for new clients and keep long-standing ones.
- Build up a portfolio. Collate shining examples of your strongest pieces and showcase them to their best.
If you’re wondering how to become a technical writer without experience, rest assured that it is doable. Start small and work your way up, homing in on your own areas of expertise to begin with, before branching out into areas that require more in-depth research.
Demand for technical writers is set to rise by 11% between 2016 and 2026 – that’s a higher rate than average on the global job market.
Salaried tech writers can expect take-home pay of anything between $50k and $70k a year, while freelancers charge $30 to $50 an hour, making technical writing a lucrative career option.
Salaried technical writing positions will be advertised on standard job search websites, but for budding technical writers who dream of keeping hold of their freedom, the self-employed route requires a little more legwork.
Make a point of attending trade fairs and industry events:
- tcworld: The world’s largest technical communications conference takes place in Stuttgart every autumn, and is packed full of talks, workshops, and discussions.
- Write the Docs: A global community of seasoned and early-career tech writers, with three conferences held across the world every year.
- TCUK: An annual UK-based conference that offers a line-up of talks, coaching, and inspirational sessions.
Aspiring freelancers should turn their attention to the busy freelance marketplaces that have popped up over the past few years:
- Upwork: Billed as the world’s largest remote platform, with a slick design and seamless user experience.
- People Per Hour: With over a million businesses in its community, this is a lively, pay-per-hour website where you’ll find it easy to pick up freelance gigs.
- Freelancer: A bustling bidding-style platform that gets you up and running quickly.
As your client list grows and becomes more established, you’ll find the need to hunt down leads decreases.
Freedom, variety, and a steady income
For the right profile, technical writing can offer immense freedom and a healthy work-life balance, while providing you with variety in the subjects you will be called on to tackle – perfect for curious minds, and strong writers with an interest in the world around them.
Demand for talented tech writers shows no sign of slowing down, and hourly rates and salaries are lucrative in light of the low entry requirements. Technical writing enjoys cross-over with other peripheral professions, such as IT translation services and professional translation services more generally.
If you’d like to find out more about this fascinating field, get in touch with EHLION’s team of technical writing experts and let us walk you through the details. And if you’re a company investigating how technical writing could benefit your business, look no further: reach out for insight into how we can help.