A technical writer is a person who explains complex processes in a simple manner, producing important documents and manuals for customers, clients, employees, and other important stakeholders. Some technical writers write for specific processes in a company, and others write in a more generalized manner. Overall, there is expected to be strong growth in the technical writing field. Below, we will explain what being a technical writer entails, list the necessary education, and provide detailed technical writer salary information.
A technical writer essentially translates complex documents, processes, and instructions into an easy-to-read script for the benefit of employees, customers, and clients. Common documents technical writers produce are user manuals, instruction booklets, training guides, and technical reports. Sometimes, writers specialize in a specific field such as medicine, software, or hardware.
A typical technical writer might be asked, for example, to produce a how-to manual for a new software product. This will help users complete a new or complicated process, and it will be the primary document employees, and trainees will refer to when in need. A technical writer may also write step-by-step instructions for a company explaining how to transition from a physical hard drive to cloud storage. Most of the time, technical writers work at a desk in an office in a full-time capacity.
The job is good for people who like examining complex processes and explaining them in a detailed, orderly fashion. To succeed as a technical writer, one must have excellent information management skills, advanced research skills in technical subjects, and an acute attention to detail. Furthermore, all technical writers should be able to work under the pressure of strict deadlines.
Technical writers must be able to work well in a team setting and be able to communicate technical information with employees from different departments and customers. This means asking good questions, asking for clarification, and confirming to make everything is understood completely. Similarly, technical writers need to stay informed about the latest technological developments at their company and in their industry, and it is important they understand how new processes work. This entails a significant amount of reading and asking further questions.
Technical writers must have experience with current online publishing programs. In addition to Microsoft Office, some companies use in-house software that writers will be required to become familiar with. Some positions might also require the use of audio, video, or other forms of media to supplement written documents.
A majority of technical writers move on to become senior technical writers after they have enough experience. However, there are other possible career paths in this field. Technical writers go on to become project managers, business analysts, instructional designers, and proposal managers, among others.
Based on data from 832 technical writers on PayScale, writers are extremely satisfied in their jobs, giving technical writing a perfect five out of five ranking in job satisfaction.
Technical writing positions usually require a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, communication, or a related field. A background in a technical area, such as computer science or engineering, is often necessary. Many universities offer 4-year English or writing programs. A typical program might consist of classes such as technical writing, writing theory, journalism, non-fiction, and editing.
Certainly, the most important skills to have are writing and communication skills. A good technical writing applicant will have focused on these areas in school, in professional opportunities, and in their own free time. Those who add to their knowledge base in specific technical areas, such as coding languages like C++, Python, and HTML, or in programs like Adobe FrameMaker, will be at a greater benefit in job applications.
Those without formal education related to technical writing are encouraged to take a technical writing class at a university, community college, or technical school. Some of these allow students to obtain a certificate upon completion, which could prove extremely valuable in the job application process. On a related note, companies occasionally post freelance work associated with writing technical manuals.
There are many educational resources available for those who want to pick up good technical writing skills. Technical writing guides have been published by companies and universities online. Also, many technical writing books have been written, and some of these focus on specific areas. Last, the Society for Technical Communication, as well as the Institution of Engineering and Technology, provide fantastic resources for people interested in the profession.
TECHNICAL WRITER SALARY INFORMATION
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median technical writer salary in 2015 was $70,240. The industries with the highest salary are professional, scientific and technical services; information; administrative and support services; and manufacturing. In these industries, the median technical writer salary ranged from $68,140 to $72,850. Projected technical writer job growth for 2014 to 2024 is 10%, which is faster than the national average.
Based on a 2018 survey of 4,298 technical writers on PayScale, the average technical writer salary (before bonuses and other additional compensation) is $57,987. Salary ranges from $39,896 to $84,993. Bonuses range from $502 to 7,955, and profit-sharing ranges from $508 to $10,888. Total pay ranges from $37,650 to $88,739. It is important to note that these figures vary considerably based on years of experience and geographic location.
Technical writers with less than five years of experience report average total compensation (which includes tips, bonus, and overtime pay) around $49,000. With five to ten years of experience, average total compensation increases to $63,000. 10 to 20 years of experience leads to average total compensation of $70,000. Finally, with greater than 20 years of experience, a technical writer can expect average total compensation of $79,000.
In San Francisco, the median total technical writer salary of $86,106 is 50% greater than the national average. Seattle (39% greater), San Jose (36% greater), New York (27% greater), and Boston (23% greater) are also well above the national average. Washington state and Dallas both offer 10% higher total technical writer salary than the rest of the country. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cincinnati has a median total technical writer salary that is 10% less than the national average, and Dallas offers 8% less than the average.
Employees in the field reported that Adobe FrameMaker is the skill that most positively affects technical writer salary. In fact, respondents who are proficient in FrameMaker reported an 11% higher income than those without this skill. Other skills listed that enhance salary are RoboHelp, XML, and Microsoft Visio.
41% of respondents who work as technical writers have one to four years of experience. 7% of respondents have less than one year of experience, 20% have five to nine years of experience, 20% have 10 to 19 years of experience, and 12% have 20 or more years of experience. The PayScale survey noted that most people move on to other jobs if they have more than 20 years of experience as a technical writer.
Growth in the technical writing profession is expected to be higher than the national average for the near future. This is due to the increasing importance of technological, medical, and scientific data in the modern world. And, as the technology industry continues to grow, so will the necessity of user manuals, instruction booklets, and training guides.
To find a job as a technical writer, find out more information about what the role entails. Look carefully at examples of content that technical writers produce: manuals, user guides, and instructions for customers, as well as guides that other employees in technical positions can use for troubleshooting. Finally, develop knowledge about the industry in which you want to work.
If you have experience in a field unrelated to technical writing but are seeking a technical writing job, consider developing your writing skills. Also, consider how you can make a pitch to prospective employers that puts your experience in the best light. An especially strong interest in technology, coding experience, and a desire to learn are important in this regard.
Regardless of your background and years of experience, you should understand the products of the company for which you are applying. For example, if you seek employment as a technical writer at an internet security company, you should understand how internet security works, have experience with various internet security platforms and understand the company’s product(s) in relation to those of its competitors.
Finally, a cover letter can go a long way in putting your story into words. Often the most personal part of the application process is the cover letter, and this is a chance for a prospective technical writer to show off his/her writing abilities. A good cover letter explains why an applicant’s writing skills and technical expertise make them the right candidate for the job.
If you are considering employment as a technical writer or wish to obtain technical writer salary information, be sure to take into account your geographic region, level of experience, and technical expertise. The prospects are positive in technical writing, with greater than average expected growth and excellent job satisfaction.