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Technical Writer


Description

We all know people who still do not know how to program their VCR. Not everyone in this world has a technical mind; that is why the work of technical writers is vital to many industries. For example, when they buy a new appliance or electronic device, most people need to read the instruction manual of how to assemble and operate the product. The majority of individuals need instructions in order to use technological products to their fullest capacity. Technical writers bridge this gap between technical jargon and clear writing that the average person can understand. They translate scientific, financial, electronic and other technical information into words that are readable and easily understood. In other words, they explain difficult concepts in simple, but accurate words. Due to the growth in technology, professional technical writing has become a growing field.

Technical writers produce all kinds of user documents such as instruction manuals, textbooks and user guides. They also write company policies, catalogs and safety handbooks. Some may even develop the visual aspects of the publications they produce and select illustrations and photographs to accompany the text. In general, a technical writer produces any non-creative or journalistic writing. Technical writers must consider a number of important factors when writing these manuals. The audience is the most prevalent factor since writing for seven-year olds is a bit different than writing for industrial engineers. Based on the target audience the technical writer will write in a specific style.

Before a writer can begin the writing process, there is an element of research involved. This may involve interviewing people as well as reading and gathering information from print and electronic sources. Some may speak to experts in the particular field or get the product in their hands and test it out for themselves. This is why some technical writers are involved in teamwork. For example, in writing a computer software user manual, the writer will consult with the software producers and other computer engineers that designed the product. They also consult with illustrators and photographers that will draw diagrams of the products.

Technical writers must keep their skills and knowledge up to date through professional development activities, taking continuing education courses, attending workshops and conferences and reading and communicating with others in their field. Some may be knowledgeable about reading computer codes or science practices. All in all, a technical writer needs technical experience as well as strong writing skills. Wherever science and technology is being developed, used and produced, a technical writer is undoubtedly behind the scenes.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$30,270
 
Median Salary:
$50,580
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$80,900

  Interests and Skills  
Technical writers require excellent communication skills, both in writing and in person, with the ability to think logically and generate clear, concise and comprehensible writing. Many technical writers are knowledgeable about a specific subject area such as computers, engineering or medicine. They have technical and mechanical minds, but can also communicate ideas and instructions clearly. Accordingly, technical writers should be able to give and take constructive criticism and rework their original ideas numerous times until clients are satisfied.

Most technical writers have a true interest in technology or science and can present their ideas to people. Technical writers thrive on pressure situations and enjoy finding innovative solutions to problems. Finally, they should be very organized and know how to manage their time properly. Since freelance work comes in chunks, writers must be prepared to work on more than one project at a time and work with overlapping deadlines.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Research subjects and analyze materials such as specifications, blueprints, diagrams, maintenance manuals, reports and studies
  • Write user guides and instruction manuals in a language that all people can understand that explain how to install, operate and maintain mechanical, electronic and other equipment
  • Write company reports, proposals and policies
  • Write online help files and other documents, including reference, procedural manuals, technical reports
  • Rewrite and edit drafts as often as is necessary after they have been reviewed by technical experts for accuracy
  • May manage documentation projects
  • A typical day for a technical writer will consist of writing and researching technical information and producing technical literature for companies and organizations in an indoor setting. Technical writers generally work standard office hours, although they are sometimes required to work longer hours to meet deadlines. Freelance technical writers can set their own hours but must be prepared to work long hours when required to complete projects on time. The pressure associated with having to meet strict deadlines can be a stressful in this career.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Technical writers may be employed full-time or on a contract basis by software development companies, public and private sector research laboratories, resource and reference publishers, educational publishers, manufacturing and construction companies, Internet design firms and multimedia content providers, military contractors, governments, and large pharmaceutical and health-related companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced technical writers can move into related writing fields such as editing, publishing, public relations or film. Also, since many technical writers are so knowledgeable about computers, technology and science, they may also move into technical jobs with further education. Some also become database administrators, webpage designers and other computer related experts. They may also choose to move into the media or work on a freelance basis and accepting contracts on their own terms.
 

  Educational Paths  
Although there are no standard education requirements for becoming a technical writer, these days, most companies will not hire writers without a specified diploma or extensive work experience. Many writers have an undergraduate degree in English, journalism, computer science or engineering and then go on to take a post-graduate technical writing program at a community college. Employers look for writers with analytical and technical skills, hard to come by in most people.

Technical writers also need a working knowledge of a specific technical field, so that they can speak intelligently with engineers and computer programmers and troubleshoot problems. Some also have knowledge of copyright law, layout and design and publishing practices.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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