Technical writing has a strong appeal for many writers. Often, the pay is higher, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is growing faster than average. That means that the technical writing field has opportunities opening over the next 10 years. Writers who have the experience will have excellent options for building a career. One thing to note, though, is that technical writing takes skill and experience. It’s helpful to understand the field more in-depth and get the right training. Here are 4 things you need to do to kick off a career as a technical writer.
Understand What Technical Writing Is
What is technical writing? It’s almost exactly what it sounds like: writing that is more technical in nature. This means the documents and content you’re writing is going to serve specific functions, and explore a complex subject more in-depth. Technical writing typically includes:
- Product manuals
- User guides
- Professional and employee guides
- How-to’s and troubleshooting
- Using correct terminology
- Setting up documentation in an organized manner
Technical writers often meet base criteria. They’ll have a bachelor’s degree, have deep knowledge in a specific area, and have interest in furthering that knowledge in a specific industry.
Find Educational Opportunities
In technical writing, the right credentials are important. It’s also essential to have knowledge of what is expected of technical writers. One way to do this is to take some courses or enroll in online educational opportunities. This includes:
Community college, university, or technical school courses
Many local schools have technical writing classes you can take. In some areas, there are even certificate programs where you can receive professional training in a shorter timeframe. For example, Bellevue College out of the Seattle area has an online technical writing certificate available. There are programs like this all over the nation. Look in your area to see what’s available, or call out-of-state programs to see if you can take the course from further away.
A lot of professional organizations or schools offer online courses. Find a resource that lists them out, and find online courses that will work for you. One place to look is Coursera, which keeps ongoing lists of available courses in technical writing.
Books are still a great way to learn, and if you want insight into specific types of technical writing, they may be your best bet. While there are general information books about technical writing, there are also many written for specific fields. Decide what direction you’d like to take, and delve in. The I’d Rather Be Writing blog gives a list of 40 excellent foundational technical writing books you can choose from.
Join professional organizations
Look in your area for technical writing organizations or associations. You can gather a lot of info about the field from others who are in it. They often host meetings, list job openings, and have plenty of resources.
Find opportunities to gain experience
If you feel you’re ready to start technical writing, look to companies and small businesses to get your feet wet. This could mean internships, contract work, or freelance work.
Choose Your Field
Choosing your field is as simple as knowing what you’re skilled in and knowledgeable about. However, it’s helpful to know common technical writing fields just in case you are looking to expand your education. They are:
- IT and Technology
Gain the Skills
The ideal way to gain skills is to get experience and practice. You can do this by writing technical documents, either for a client or as practice. As you first start out, use examples of good technical writing as your guide. Follow structure, formatting, style and tone. Know that technical writing does not use a lot of “filler.” Rather, every word needs to count. Read a lot of technical documents in your chosen field to start learning how the experts do it, and as you become more familiar, then start to add your personal stamp to it. You’ll often need to follow a style guide or a set of guidelines from a company/business, but your job will be to create content that has all the relevant information on the chosen topic and is not only well laid-out but also straightforward to read.
Now is the time to look at gaining skills to become a technical writer. As a growing field, the need for technical writers will increase, and your opportunity to make a career and money from it will as well.