How To Become a Technical Writer in Five Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published April 3, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published April 3, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Technical writing is a complex form of communication that requires extensive knowledge of the technical concepts within manuals and instructional documents. Technical writers depend on their ability to take complicated information and create materials that are easy to read for different audiences.

If you're considering a career as a technical writer, you can take certain steps to develop your skills and get qualified in the field. In this article, we discuss what technical writers do and how you can become one, with special tips.

What is a technical writer?

Technical writers develop documents, user guides and other written materials for technical products and services. They communicate through writing, providing easily digestible instruction manuals to help audiences understand specialized topics, such as how to use complex features of software programs and applications. Technical writers can work for one company or provide freelance services for multiple organizations.

Related: Your Guide to Technical Writing Careers

What does a technical writer do?

Technical writers commonly perform a variety of tasks, including:

  • Brainstorming, outlining and producing professional documentation free of errors for a range of users and knowledge levels

  • Communicating technical concepts including computer applications, medical procedures, environmental and economic regulations, and manufacturing and engineering processes

  • Applying research and evaluation to create documents that clearly communicate complex information

  • Analyzing target audiences to define project requirements and planning content presentation, design and tone

  • Designing documents using charts, images, infographics, headings and lists to increase readability

Technical writers work in a variety of industries to simplify complex processes and terms. In the medical field, for instance, technical writers perform research and outline data to produce many forms of documents that explain complex medical procedures, outline medical case studies and describe the interactions of pharmaceuticals. Technical writers in the IT industry may produce instructional manuals and user guides that teach audiences how to use software applications.

Read more: Learn About Being a Technical Writer

How to become a technical writer

To become a technical writer, it's important to develop your skills in written communication, design and formatting, research and analysis. Additionally, the following steps outline the process for applying these skills to become a credentialed technical writer:

  1. Earn your bachelor's degree.

  2. Pursue a technical writer certification.

  3. Create a portfolio of samples.

  4. Build up your professional network.

  5. Develop your industry knowledge.

1. Earn your bachelor's degree

Technical writers may enter the field with an associate degree, but obtaining a bachelor's degree in a field such as technical communications, scientific writing or journalism can improve your job prospects. Additionally, consider developing your knowledge of specialized fields like engineering, computer and data science, and medicine through additional training and coursework.

2. Pursue a technical writer certification

Certification is optional, but you can enhance your qualifications with a technical writer credential through the Society for Technical Communication (STC). This association offers a three-tiered certification program that consists of foundation, practitioner and expert certification levels. Additionally, the American Medical Writers' Association (AMWA) offers continuing education and training programs for technical writers who specialize in medical writing. If you plan to enter the scientific or medical communication fields, consider certification through AMWA to increase your career prospects.

Related: How to Become a Writer in 7 Steps

3. Create a portfolio of samples

As you develop your technical writing ability, collect writing samples and offer to take on small projects for friends and acquaintances. Create each sample as you would a professional technical project and keep it in a work portfolio. You can use this resource when you apply for jobs to show employers evidence of your work and demonstrate your technical and written communication skills.

4. Build up your professional network

Consider joining a professional association for technical writers, and attend networking events where professionals in IT, scientific and medical fields may gather. As you build your network, find opportunities to practice your skills and boost your reputation as a qualified technical writer. For instance, use network connections and association contacts to find open-source projects to contribute to. Similarly, volunteer or create a trade-off with a professional acquaintance who needs a software manual designed and printed.

5. Develop your industry knowledge

Stay up to date on your industry's trends and new developments to support your knowledge of the field. Staying current on new technology and software, medical advances or the latest scientific research is important for planning and writing your project materials. If you choose to join a professional association, use the resources the network offers to remain informed of the latest news for whichever field you specialize in.

Tips for becoming a technical writer

Consider the following tips as you begin your journey of becoming a technical writer:

  • Be proactive about your skill development.

  • Focus your development in one niche.

  • Learn and develop web design skills.

  • Create online courses for tech writers.

  • Familiarize yourself with coding.

Be proactive about your skill development

Even before you enter a degree program for technical writing, it's important to focus on your skill development. For example, build your knowledge of written communication such as outlining, editing and designing content. Similarly, develop your understanding of complex terminology within the fields you're interested in. Entering a degree program with some background in these areas can help increase your success in your education.

Focus your development in one niche

Determine the niche you want to write in so you can build your knowledge of that field. Familiarize yourself with the tone, style and content appearance common to the types of documents within your niche, and practice the application of these techniques on your academic assignments and open-source projects.

Learn and develop web design skills

Many technical writers produce content for online platforms and websites, so it's important to develop an understanding of web design. Consider taking an online course, reviewing learning materials and using resources to help you gain the knowledge you need to produce technical content for online channels.

Create online courses for tech writers

Teaching others about your field and how to apply technical and communication skills can help you develop a deeper understanding of your role and the elements of technical writing. Try an online coursework platform to create short video courses that help others learn the background concepts of technical writing. For instance, you can create a short video tutorial that outlines the steps to produce a small user guide for a common software application and build up to more complex topics.

Familiarize yourself with coding

Although technical writers usually don't write in coding languages, they need to have a basic understanding of the nuances and applications for some of the common coding scripts. Develop familiarity with HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Additional coding languages to explore include Python and Markdown languages.

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