Technical Writing Jobs
What You Need to Know
to Get One

What is Technical Writing and What Does a Technical Writer do?

Technical writing jobs are available and are really great freelance writing opportunities, but knowing the field is the best place to start.

In order to get technical writing jobs, you need to know that technical writing is a form of technical communication, and the writing styles are formal writing used in many fields as diverse as the sciences, computers, finance, the aerospace industry, robotics, consumer electronics, and any type of technology.

What technical writers do is explain technology and how it works as well as related ideas to both technical and nontechnical audiences. For example, technical writing manuals, telling a computer programmer how to use a specific type of software or explaining how to program a VCR to a consumer.

Technical writers are suppose to take what seems complicated, and simplify it for the user. That is what technical writing jobs are all about.

What Skills Do You Need to Get One of Those Technical Writing Jobs?

So, what skills are important for technical writers and in getting technical writing jobs?

Every career has certain skills that are important to that career and things you must know in order to be successful. Attorneys go to law school, doctors go to medical school and technical writers must study too.

A great resource to learn technical writing is Technical Writing: Principles, Strategies, and Readings.

In the book, you will find these skills, as well as many more that are necessary for the technical writer to be successful as well as some great technical writing tips.

  • Writing - Although you don't have to be the best writer, you do need to be able to write clear instructions that are easily understood by a variety of audiences. Ex: Technical writing manuals.
  • Listening - You need to be a good listener in order to know what information is necessary in doing the job. You need to understand before you can help others to understand.
  • Interviewing - Asking questions is a very important skill for a writer, but especially for technical writing jobs. You need to know how to ask questions in order to get the appropriate information about the product. Many companies will give you written materials to review, but it is important to make sure you are clear, and asking questions is the way to be sure you are.
  • Computer - These days, materials are produced in a variety of formats and having and knowing how to use the right software for the job are vital.
  • Testing skills - As a technical writer, I like to, if at all possible, test my instructions before I finalize the project. As a writer, this is not always possible, although someone does it. But it's nice to be completely positive that your instructions, when followed, will make the product work as it is supposed to.

Read books...

These are some of my favorites.

Technical Writing Expertise

In order for technical documents to be useful, it's readers must understand and be able to act on them without having to decode the instructions like a secret message.

Good technical writing skills clarify what would be technical jargon and present it as information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience.

A manual that provides readily-accessible and practical information regarding the technical writing process is Developing Quality Technical Information A Handbook for Writers and Editors.

I highly recommend studying technical writing. You know what good technical writing is supposed to do, but poor technical writing increases confusion by using technical jargon that couldn't possibly be understood by the average person, or it fails to explain unavoidable technical terms that are necessary for the reader to be familiar with in order to be able to use the instructions.

For example: Let's consider a technical writer writing a recipe to make Chili. What questions need to be answered in order to do the job?

  • Audience: Who is the audience? Are they people at home in their kitchens or highly trained chefs in professional kitchens? 
  • Source: Is there any existing documentation—a rough draft? Who is the subject matter expert (SME), a professional chef? a chili cook-off champ? A beginner?
  • Delivery: In what format will the recipe be delivered? Is is for an e-book, a Web page, or something else?

How the Technical Writer Does the Job

If the technical writer is given the recipe written on a napkin but it is impossible to make out, so she must also interview a subject matter expert (SME) like the chef who created it.

Then she is told that the audience consists of people in their own kitchens, so the writer must adjust the style accordingly and replace or explain words in the source material like "beurre mixer" or "springform pan."

The chef reviews a draft of the recipe (a technical edit) and marks in needed technical corrections (bake at 350 degrees, not 325 degrees). The writer prepares a final draft and the document goes into edit to be sure that all instructions are grammatically correct.

The document owner and any other stakeholders perform a final review and approve the recipe before it is sent to the printer.

That is, in a nutshell, how the technical writer does her job! There are so many writing careers to choose from, but one that pays very well is technical writing jobs.

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