A few questions about a Technical Writer

Comments (17)

Student in Hurricane, West Virginia

67 months ago

Hello, I have a few questions about the profession of a technical writer. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

1. Education, training, and/or experienced required.
2. Working conditions
3. Fields potential for growth
4. Salary ranges
5. Advancement opportunities

Thanks again. [=

D in Spring, Texas

66 months ago

Don't bother.

Joyce Derenas in South Grafton, Massachusetts

66 months ago

You need at least a BA in English, and a Cert if Tech Writing, or a BS in Computer Science. Writers come with varying vocabularies. If you are heavy in insurace, then you can't/won't transition easily to say .. .pharma. If you work with software, you need to know a lot about the platform that this software will be used on as well as the platform on which the software has been developed on.
Right now, there are ZERO jobs. I've been unemployed for 1 year, and would not be surprised if the industry does not pick up for another year. The working conditions are usually good (Perks, transportation rebates if you live in a large metro area, always free coffees, most often 6% company-contribution to a company 401K, ALWAYS excellent medical/dental/vision (usually at less than 23.00/paycheck for individual plan). Most often 10-12 sick days/year, max holidays/year. Typically NO bonus, and NO stock options anymore. Usually all the food you can eat each day (companies vary). You work in sandals and shorts in December if you want. No dress code unless you are meeting with clients. More than often, expect developers to snub you/your knowledge until they feel you out (6 months to 1 year). Expect to work 48-60 hours during last few weeks of a release, but you go back to 40 hours after the release is out. No overtime. You are expected to do what it takes to get your work out and on time. Right now, DITA is taking over the ENTIRE INDUSTRY, so if you don't get some DITA knowledge under you, then forget it and select another career path.

Jack in Huntsville, Alabama

66 months ago

Joyce Derenas in South Grafton, Massachusetts said: Y
Right now, there are ZERO jobs. I've been unemployed for 1 year, and would not be surprised if the industry does not pick up for another year.

A search of "technical writer" here on Indeed returns over 6,000 job openings.

Dacoh

66 months ago

It's mind-numbingly boring work and the opportunities to advance are zero.

Clear Concise Communication in Toronto, Ontario

66 months ago

If you are of the personality type who enjoys detailed work, then it can be rewarding.

CJ Spurr

65 months ago

Wow, I have never seen a board so negative. If you like writing then go for it. Joyce is correct in the education area. While getting your degree you don't need to pick a specialty, but I recommend that you research the different areas. I have worked for several industries over the years, but mostly in the IT side. Software development probably is the best area for growth. If you live outside a major metro area you will have a harder time finding a job, but they are there. Try searching on consulting firms. They are a great way to get your feet wet and exposure to different areas of technical writing.

Good luck. Ignore the negative people.

mlyn in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

62 months ago

I would definitely get a B. A. in Technical Writing or M. A. because the M. A. provides you with more of the "why" behind the "how." It's beneficial in understanding why you make the decisions you make. I'm not sure of what everyone else is saying, but I haven't had any problems finding or seeing technical writing jobs. A lot are contracts, which aren't bad when you want to get the experience. I can say that my B. A. in English helps very much with the editing side of it, but my M. A. in Professional/Technical Writing is where I received my indepth knowledge of the field. I learned the software, how the writing differs from other genres, and why we make the decisions we make. As a technical writer who works with writers with just an English degree, I see the difference in their understanding (which is lacking). They just do what someone tells them to do because they don't have the in depth knowledge to know why they do what they do. For example, they know to put notes at a certain location because a company's style guide says so but not why it is put there. The person who wrote the style guide has to tell them; furthermore, they are not qualified to write the style guide because they don't know the "why" to guide the their decisions in writing the guide.

The salary depends on your experience/education, the location, and the industry (engineering, IT, etc.). The working condition as far as how you are treated depends on how much they need what you do. Some industries have to have what you do to keep their ISO 9000 certification, which has a big effect on their business (maintaining customers/client, etc.). Advancement could be manager over a team of writers and you could actually vear over into other areas, depending on the knowledge you pick up as you work at a company and as you write technical documents. You just have to be willing to pick it up and actually commit to learning.

I hope this helps.

Techone in Portland, Oregon

61 months ago

Keep in mind, people that are negative on the forums are giving you a good hint of what is going on in the real world.

For students, doing internships in your field can be valuable way of figuring out if you like a field. Or do informational interviews.

1. A Bachelor's in anything is almost a requirement by most companies now.

2. Working conditions are good but keep in mind you are mostly working in an office cube.

3. Potential for growth is tricky. You have to be careful not to get pigeon holed as just a technical writer. Expand your experience, training, illustration, design, tech support, management, whatever. Otherwise, during layoffs, you could find yourself in a fix.

4. Depends on your location, the industry, and company. Can be very good. After 5 years, market yourself on a higher level.

5. Again, depends where you want to advance. Your personality and people skills will dictate if you are good for mgt.

Best of luck

Don't do it in Mountain View, California

57 months ago

I've been a technical writer for about a decade, transitioning from another career. It was a mistake.

The number of jobs posted is deceptive; most are contract gigs -- which is fine if that's what you want. In many companies there's little opportunity for advancement. And you may not want to advance; the higher you go, the less and less writing you'll do.

Do yourself a favor and think of something else.

Loki in Nashville, Tennessee

56 months ago

Would you discourage someone from majoring in Technical Communications? I have 2 years of school left and I was considering this as my major. After doing more research, it seems that a lot of technical writers are out of work or are being underpaid because companies can hire offshore technical writers now for much less. I'm so confused.. should I pick something else to major in?

Do technical writers have to do a lot of networking to constantly obtain new contract work, etc? I hate networking!

anucommunications.com in South Lyon, Michigan

54 months ago

Hope knowledgeable tech writers can help me. I've been a grant proposal and fund development writer for nonprofit agencies for years, but I am currently trying to transition into corporate proposal writing. I recently landed a short-term gig preparing proposals for an I.T. solutions firm. I welcome the challenge, but I am "out of my element". I'm eager to learn, are there any online/print resources available? For instance, I'm not knowledgeable about the traditional activities required to take an IT program from coding/development to testing to formal launch. There's a mountain of technical terms/activity I am scrambling to learn.

Also, can anyone comment on the range of opportunities affiliated with the new changes in healthcare reform and ICD-10 (an industry-wide update of diagnosis/billing codes)to take place now through year 2013?

Thanks, all!

info@clearconcise.com in Toronto, Ontario

53 months ago

Yes I would say if you are looking for any kind of work, networking is always important.

NDisque in Richmond, Virginia

51 months ago

To answer your questions:
1. Education, training, and/or experienced required.
I believe that most technical writers have a degree in English. I personally have my Bachelors in Business Management and my Masters in Computer Science/Information Systems, which gives me a great balance to be a liaison between business and IT folks. Having both a technical and non-technical degree, along with working with many users in both categories, I find it easy to translate technical jargon into laymen's terms, which is how I stumbled upon the technical writing field.

2. Working conditions
It depends on the company and industry, as with most professions. You may be sitting for the majority of the day while you are actually doing your "writing" work. There may also be days where you are on the run most of the time because you are tracking down users to get input on how a system works.

3. Fields potential for growth
If you are a technical writer, you can move into the area of journalism, copywriting, website content writing, quality assurance (writing test plans and possibly executing them, if you have enough knowledge of the system), and training.

4. Salary ranges
Again, this depends on the industry, company and your location. A technical writer can make anywhere from $60k-$90k depending on the above listed factors. Do a salary search on Salary.com for your area. It's pretty accurate for the medium range.

5. Advancement opportunities
Usually there is only a technical writer or senior technical writer if you decide to stay in the field. However, if you get to know a system or company well, there may be other areas of growth.

Good luck!

Natalie Disque
<a href="www.qualitytechnicalwriting.com">QualityTechnicalWriting.com</a>

techwriter in Jersey City, New Jersey

50 months ago

There is a degree for Tech Writing! LOL

James in Louisville, Kentucky

49 months ago

techwriter in Jersey City, New Jersey said: There is a degree for Tech Writing! LOL

Yep. I have a Master of Technical and Scientific Communication degree in the Professional area of Computers. I was a technical writer many years before my degrees as a result of learning to write for computers and electronic systems as an Electronic Technician.

Sophisticated embedded software and microchips in electronic systems does most of the troubleshooting and there is not a great need for the type of technical writers as of the past.

With a good command of the English language, one can learn the methodology with little technical knowledge to be effective in many cases.

Because of the Internet, there are many opportunities for the type of writing technical writers have skills for and it could be more lucrative.

James Barakaat
aka James Graves-Barakaat
of James Graves and Associates, Inc.
JamesGraves.com

Bart in Huntsville, Alabama

41 months ago

See my blog for the mindset of a technical writer: heroictechwriting.wordpress.com/

I would definitely agree with the notion that you should avoid getting pigeonholed. Hopefully the blog will offer some suggestions to help.

Good luck!

/b

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