Technical Writers

Summary

technical writers image
Technical writers routinely work with other technology experts.
Quick Facts: Technical Writers
2012 Median Pay $65,500 per year
$31.49 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation Less than 5 years
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 49,500
Job Outlook, 2012-22 15% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 7,400

What Technical Writers Do

Technical writers, also called technical communicators, prepare instruction manuals, journal articles, and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily. They also develop, gather, and disseminate technical information among customers, designers, and manufacturers.

Work Environment

Most technical writers work full time in offices. Although technical writers work in a variety of industries, they are concentrated in the computer and engineering industries.

How to Become a Technical Writer

A college degree is usually required for a position as a technical writer. In addition, experience with a technical subject, such as computer science, Web design, or engineering, is important.

Pay

The median annual wage for technical writers was $65,500 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of technical writers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be driven by the continuing expansion of scientific and technical products and by growth in Web-based product support. Job opportunities, especially for applicants with technical skills, are expected to be good.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of technical writers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about technical writers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Technical Writers Do About this section

Technical writers
Technical writers often create diagrams to show users how a product works.

Technical writers, also called technical communicators, prepare instruction manuals, journal articles, and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily. They also develop, gather, and disseminate technical information among customers, designers, and manufacturers.

Duties

Technical writers typically do the following:

  • Determine the needs of end users of technical documentation
  • Study product samples and talk with product designers and developers
  • Work with technical staff to make products easier to use and thus need fewer instructions
  • Organize and write supporting documents for products
  • Use photographs, drawings, diagrams, animation, and charts that increase users’ understanding
  • Select appropriate medium for message or audience, such as manuals or online videos
  • Standardize content across platforms and media
  • Gather usability feedback from customers, designers, and manufacturers
  • Revise documents as new issues arise

Technical writers create operating instructions, how-to manuals, assembly instructions, and “frequently asked questions” pages to help technical support staff, consumers, and other users within a company or an industry. After a product is released, technical writers also may work with product liability specialists and customer service managers to improve the end-user experience through product design changes.

Technical writers often work with computer hardware engineers, scientists, computer support specialists, and software developers to manage the flow of information among project workgroups during development and testing. Therefore, technical writers must be able to understand complex information and communicate the information to people with diverse professional backgrounds.

Applying their knowledge of the user of the product, technical writers may serve as part of a team conducting usability studies to help improve the design of a product that is in the prototype stage. Technical writers may conduct research on their topics through personal observation, library and Internet research, and discussions with technical specialists.

Some technical writers help write grant proposals for research scientists and institutions.

Increasingly, technical information is being delivered online, and technical writers are using the interactive technologies of the Web to blend text, graphics, multidimensional images, sound, and video.

Work Environment About this section

Technical writers
Technical writers usually work in offices.

Technical writers held about 49,500 jobs in 2012. The industries employing the most technical writers in 2012 were as follows: 

Professional, scientific, and technical services38%
Manufacturing17
Information12
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation
services
6

Most technical writers work in offices. They routinely work with engineers and other technology experts to manage the flow of information throughout an organization.

Although most technical writers are employed directly by the companies that use their services, some work on a freelance basis and are paid per assignment. Either they are self-employed, or they work for a technical consulting firm and are given specific short-term or recurring assignments, such as writing about a new product or coordinating the work and communication among different offices to keep a project on track.

Technical writing jobs are usually concentrated in locations with information technology or scientific and technical research companies, such as California and Texas.

Work Schedules

Technical writers may be expected to work evenings and weekends to coordinate with those in other time zones or to meet deadlines. Most work full time.

How to Become a Technical Writer About this section

Technical writers
Some technical writers work on a freelance basis.

A college degree is usually required for a position as a technical writer. In addition, experience with a technical subject, such as computer science, Web design, or engineering, is important.

Education

Employers generally prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, or communications. Many technical writing jobs require both a degree and knowledge in a specialized field, such as engineering, computer science, or medicine. Web design experience also is helpful because of the growing use of online technical documentation.

Work Experience

Some technical writers begin their careers not as writers, but as specialists or research assistants in a technical field. By developing technical communication skills, they eventually assume primary responsibilities for technical writing. In small firms, beginning technical writers may work on projects right away; in larger companies with more standard procedures, beginners may observe experienced technical writers and interact with specialists before being assigned projects.

Training

Many technical writers need short-term on-the-job training to adapt to a different style of writing.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some associations, including the Society for Technical Communication, offers certification for technical writers. In addition, the American Medical Writers Association offers extensive continuing education programs and certificates in medical writing. These certificates are available to professionals in the medical and allied scientific communication fields.

Although not mandatory, certification can demonstrate competence and professionalism, making candidates more attractive to employers. It can also increase a technical writer’s opportunities for advancement.

Advancement

Prospects for advancement generally include working on more complex projects and leading or training junior staff. Some technical writers become self-employed and produce work on a freelance basis.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Technical writers must be able to take complex, technical information and translate it for colleagues and consumers who have nontechnical backgrounds.

Detail oriented. Technical writers create detailed instructions for others to follow. As a result, they must be detailed and precise at every step so that the instructions can be useful.

Imagination. Technical writers must be able to think about a procedure or product in the way that a person without technical experience would think about it.

Teamwork. Technical writers must be able to work well with others. They are almost always part of a team: with other writers; with designers, editors, and illustrators; and with the technical people whose information they are explaining.

Technical skills. Technical writers must be able to understand and then explain highly technical information. Many technical writers need a background in engineering or computer science in order to do this.

Writing skills. Technical communicators must have excellent writing skills to be able to explain technical information clearly.

Pay About this section

Technical Writers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Technical writers

$65,500

Media and communication workers

$50,930

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for technical writers was $65,500 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,700 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $101,660.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for technical writers in the top four industries in which these writers worked were as follows:

Information$70,460
Administrative and support and waste management and
remediation services
67,140
Professional, scientific, and technical services66,440
Manufacturing64,170

Technical writers may be expected to work evenings and weekends to coordinate with those in other time zones or to meet deadlines. Most work full time.

Job Outlook About this section

Technical Writers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Technical writers

15%

Total, all occupations

11%

Media and communication workers

8%

 

Employment of technical writers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment growth will be driven by the continuing expansion of scientific and technical products and by growth in Web-based product support. Growth and change in the high-technology and electronics industries will result in a greater need for those who can write instruction manuals and communicate information clearly to users.

Professional, scientific, and technical services firms will continue to grow rapidly and should be a good source of new jobs even as the occupation finds acceptance in a broader range of industries, including data processing, hosting, and related services.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities, especially for applicants with technical skills, are expected to be good. The growing reliance on technologically sophisticated products in the home and the workplace and the increasing complexity of medical and scientific information needed for daily living will create many new job opportunities for technical writers.

In addition, the need to replace workers who retire over the coming decade will result in some job openings. However, there will be competition among freelance technical writers.

Employment projections data for technical writers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Technical writers

27-3042 49,500 56,900 15 7,400 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of technical writers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Computer hardware engineers

Computer Hardware Engineers

Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. By creating new directions in computer hardware, these engineers create rapid advances in computer technology.

Bachelor’s degree $100,920
Computer programmers

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers write code to create software programs. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow.

Bachelor’s degree $74,280
Editors

Editors

Editors plan, review, and revise content for publication.

Bachelor’s degree $53,880
Interpreters and translators

Interpreters and Translators

Interpreters and translators convert information from one language into another language. Interpreters work in spoken or sign language; translators work in written language.

Bachelor’s degree $45,430
Public relations managers and specialists

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

Public relations managers plan and direct the creation of material that will maintain or enhance the public image of their employer or client. Fundraising managers coordinate campaigns that bring in donations for their organization.

Bachelor’s degree $95,450
public relations specialists image

Public Relations Specialists

Public relations specialists create and maintain a favorable public image for the organization they represent. They design media releases to shape public perception of their organization and to increase awareness of its work and goals.

Bachelor’s degree $54,170
Writers and authors

Writers and Authors

Writers and authors develop written content for advertisements, books, magazines, movie and television scripts, songs, and online publications.

Bachelor’s degree $55,940
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Technical Writers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/technical-writers.htm (visited April 18, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014