In many industries, there is a need to clearly communicate to customers and staff through instructional manuals and other publications. Technical writers help produce these documents by developing, gathering and disseminating technical information. They often write user-interface text, technical equipment manuals, operating instructions, how-to manuals, lists of frequently asked questions and installation guides.
Technical writers are employed by professional, technical and scientific companies, manufacturing and software development firms, and government agencies.
Daily tasks include working with technical staff, product developers and customers to determine the technical documentation needs of end users. Technical writers organize and write supporting documents for products, and choose appropriate photographs, charts, drawings and diagrams to increase understanding.
It’s important that technical writers organize source materials and complete writing assignments according to company standards regarding order, clarity, style and terminology. They work with product experts to determine accuracy and to make necessary revisions to materials.
Increasingly, as information is delivered online, technical writers are required to create documentation for websites. They often use interactive technologies to include multidimensional imagery, sound and video, along with text.
Additional job duties for technical writers can include:
- Serving as part of the product development team
- Conducting research and interviews to gather information
- Collaborating with engineers, software developers, scientists and others to manage the flow of information among work groups
- Gathering usability feedback from designers, manufacturers and end users
Job Outlook and Salary Range for Technical Writers
Employment of technical writers is projected to grow by 10% through 2024, exceeding the average rate of 7% for all occupations, according to May 2016 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Demand will be driven by continued expansion of technical and scientific products, as well as the growth in web-based product support, and in the high-tech and electronics industries.
In addition, expansion of professional, scientific and technical services firms is expected to drive demand for those who can write instruction manuals and communicate information to users with clarity.
According to the BLS, technical writers earned a median annual wage of $69,850 in May 2016. The top 10% earned more than $111,260.
Of the technical writers employed in 2016, the largest segment (more than 9,400) worked in computer systems design and related services. Average wages were highest for technical writers employed by firms that assign rights to resources or holdings and charge licensing fees or royalties, according to the BLS.
Salary levels and employment opportunities are affected by factors such as an individual’s work experience and education level, as well as by local market conditions.
Education and Training for Technical Writers
Most technical writer positions require a degree in a liberal arts discipline such as English, journalism or communications. In addition, many employers seek candidates with technical experience in computer science, web design or engineering. Specialized knowledge in the employer’s field, such as medicine, pharmaceuticals or software, may be required for certain positions.
According to the BLS, many employers offer on-the-job training so technical writers can adapt to the company’s style, procedures and standards. In addition to having strong writing and communication skills, technical writers typically are self-starters who can effectively manage their time.
Technical writers often begin their career as research assistants or specialists; additional experience may bring opportunities to work on more complex projects. Prospects for advancement include positions such as senior technical writer and technical publications manager. Some technical writers operate on freelance contracts, working for multiple clients
Military Occupational Specializations
Technical writers in the civilian marketplace utilize skills and knowledge similar to those of servicemembers assigned to a variety of military occupational roles:
- In the Air Force, roles include public affairs specialist, and planning and programming officer.
- Army roles include public affairs specialist.
- Navy roles include mass communication specialist, and news media and communications.
- In the Marine Corps, roles include communications officer, public affairs officer and combat correspondent.