technical writing

Technical writers with zero experience can earn a salary in the $30,000 range their first year on the job. Writers with qualifications and a little experience can earn even more.

Technical writing isn’t as difficult as some people might think. You have to know basic English, yes, so that you can put the commas where they belong, convey ideas clearly, and write instructions that sound well, like they were written by someone who speaks English.

Other than that, you don’t have to worry about the advanced structure of the language or the other stuff you slept through in high school. You just have to be willing to gather information, talk with people, and work with a team to produce a well written, cohesive product manual, information bulletin, or another such piece.

That’s the long and short of technical writing: packaging information for users, customers, clients, and buyers. You’re telling them how to assemble their new baby stroller, troubleshoot the upgraded computer system, or install the new cash registers at the store.

Hopefully, you’re doing it in such a way that the users can understand the writing, follow the directions easily (i.e. you’re not jumping from one thing to a completely different train of thought), and make it work.

WHAT SKILLS DO I NEED TO HAVE?

-People skills are a must if you want to be a technical writer. Writers must be able to collect information. Those who write for, say, a software developer need to talk to the programmers and other people on the development teams to find out as much about the program as possible before writing about it. If you can’t bring yourself to talk to the computer guys on the third floor or call them in their offices on the other side of the country, this is probably not the profession for you.

-Basic writing skills are required as well. You don’t have to know the difference between a period and a dangling participle, but you DO have to know where to put that period and how to make sentences understandable.

People in this industry are writing for an audience. You have to know what level of information to write. For example, you don’t want to use a ton of huge, confusing words when writing a manual for a child’s toy, because parents come from all backgrounds and levels of education.

If you can master this skill, you’re well on the way to becoming a good technical writer.

Time management skills are nice too. Depending on where you work (and the terms of your employment), you might be left to your own devices for most of the day, if not all of it. That means you have to be self-motivated, flexible, and able to juggle multiple projects in order to get everything done by the deadlines.

-Oh, and you have to meet deadlines. If the product is set to ship on a certain date, the manual and other written information have to be included with it. If you don’t make it, odds are you’ll get into serious trouble.

WHAT EXPERIENCE WILL HELP ME MAKE MORE MONEY?

A degree in English or Journalism helps. There are English teachers and news reporters all over America who switch to technical writing for the higher pay and better benefits. (Yes, some employers offer decent benefits packages.) Having the degree makes you more marketable and potential employers are that much more likely to call you in for an interview.

A background with computers is also nice. If you grew up banging away on a Windows-based PC, and know Microsoft Word better than you know your own mother’s face, be sure to put that on your resume. Technical writers use other programs, sure, but Word is one of the more common ones. Also, it’s a great place to start, because smaller companies will take your experience with that and use it to boost you into training for other programs.

background with computers

HOW DO I FIND A JOB?

Look online. The major job-hunting sites have plenty of listings for technical writers all over the country.

Before you post your resume, custom-tailor it to appeal to an employer in search of a technical writer. Be sure to include leadership skills, computer experience, and anything else that will be relevant to the workplace.

WHAT KINDS OF JOBS ARE OUT THERE?

Employers can hire you directly, which means you’re a full- or part-time employee of that company. You get their benefits packages as well as the nice company logo on your paychecks.

They can also opt to hire you on contract, which means that you could have a job for three weeks or three years, depending on how long you’re needed in that office or company. This option can mean better pay, but the flexible job market makes it difficult to be certain of when (or where) you’ll find the next gig.

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