How to Become a Technical Writer

If you love writing and technology, technical writing could be the right career for you.

Technical writers (also known as technical communicators) use their unique skills to make complex, specialized information easier to understand. Whether they’re creating instruction manuals and videos, product descriptions, tutorials, quick reference guides, software documentation, press releases, social media posts or white papers, technical writers play an essential role in creating a positive user experience and a successful product.

Better yet, you don’t necessarily need technical skills or experience to enter this broad, high-paying field with a bright future. Thanks to the continuing expansion of scientific and technical products, jobs for technical writers are expected to increase 6 percent from 2021 to 2031. And while the median annual salary for tech writers was $78,060 in 2021, the top 10 percent earned more than $125,010.

Many technical writers didn’t even know that the field existed when they started out; they were fortunate enough to stumble into it. Others had to overcome the myth that technical writing is difficult, boring and solitary. But technical writing is often an interesting job that requires teamwork and collaboration.

Here’s a look at the core responsibilities of technical writers, as well as the skills, qualities and experience you need for the role.

Is a Career in Technical Writing Right for You?

Unsurprisingly, technical writers need excellent writing, editing and proofreading skills. Writing experience is also important if you’re transitioning into the field. The good news: It doesn’t matter how you get the experience—all that matters is that you have it.

Good technical writing can convey complex ideas in an accurate and precise way. If you’re writing something like an instruction manual, or you have limited space on a web page, you’ll also need to use short sentences. What makes a good technical writer is the willingness and ability to adapt your writing style and learn the subject at hand.

For instance, Laura Langdon was teaching college algebra, blogging, and studying to be a data scientist when she found a list of required skills for technical writers on Twitter and decided to pivot. She studied the appropriate style and voice and within a few weeks was creating documentation and other content for software developers.

Being a technical writer is not as solitary as you might think, noted Ember Stevens, who worked in education and software instruction before becoming a technical writer for LaunchDarkly.

For instance, Stevens regularly interfaces with engineering and product teams to gain insights into the documentation she produces. Technical writers need strong interpersonal and research skills as well as the ability to relate to the audience and empathy for the end user.

Technical writers often manage multiple projects and need to meet strict deadlines, so add organizational and time management skills to list of required competencies.

There’s good news if you crave variety: technical writers always need to learn new things. In addition to producing different types of documents and content, you can work in numerous industries, including computer systems and design, government, medical, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, aerospace, education and consumer products. Once you’ve mastered the basic skills and gotten some experience under your belt, you have the ability to pursue any topic or industry that interests you.

Strategies for Learning the Fundamentals

There are several ways that you can learn the fundamentals of technical writing, the tools for each genre and the typical writing process. First, you can learn the basics by taking a free technical writing course.  

Also, many tech companies (including Google) share their technical writing style guides, free courses and other resources online. You can follow a company’s style guide and study industry-specific sample documents to create your own samples and hone your skills and style. Or you can find examples of the content you want to create, like instruction guides for software, and make changes to improve them, Langdon suggested.

“See if you can improve a document’s clarity by shortening the sentences or phrasing something differently,” she said.

Finally, check out Write the Docs, which offers a Slack community, conferences, Meetups and abundant learning resources dedicated toward improving the art and science of documentation.

Most importantly: Write. Write. Write. The only way to get better at writing is by writing. And remember, details matter. Shorten your sentences by 30 percent and choose your words wisely.

How to Land Your First Job

Create a small portfolio of technical documents geared toward the intended audience to show employers that you’ve mastered the basic skills, Stevens suggested. Network with other technical writers and recruiters on Twitter, update your online profile, apply for jobs and tweak your resume.

Technical writers are rare hybrids in high demand. With the right training, education and online exposure, it’s possible to land several interviews and be on your way to a new career within a few weeks.