The Career Guide to Technical Writing
By Stephen Bucaro
What a Technical Writer Does
Technical writing is far different than fiction writing or even non-fiction writing.
For one thing technical writing must be exact. For example writing "the push rod must be about
10 inches long" just will not do. "The push rod must be between 9.89 inches to 10.06 inches
long" is better. Writing "place heat sink compound between chip and heat sink" will not do.
"Place 2cc of Grayhill number 7 heat sink compound between the chip's upper surface and the
heat sinks lower surface, leaving no air gaps" is better.
One thing technical writers do is write specifications, and the whole point of a specification
is; it is specific. Sometimes a technical document is a legal document. A technical document
can be a bane to a company in litigation if the product doesn't perform as defined in its specification
and that result in loss or damage. On the other hand a technical document can be a blessing
to a company in litigation because it sets a specified limit on the performance of a product,
otherwise a default "warranty of purpose" applies.
What a Technical Writer Writes
• users guides
• operating manuals
• service manuals
• troubleshooting guides
• manufacturing instructions
• product specifications
• Training courseware
• FAQ (frequently asked questions)
Skills That Would be a Great Advantage
• ability to create charts and⁄or diagrams
• ability to draft and⁄or illustrate
• ability to compose photographs
• multilingual would be a great advantage
Sometimes technical writers perform the important service of opening a communications
channel between the scientists, programmers, and engineers who develop a product, and the people
who use the product but who don't understand engineering jargon.
Frequently, technical writers are called upon to update a specification or other technical
document, which although that sounds easier than writing it from scratch, often is much more
difficult, especially if some one else wrote the original document.
Technical Writers Working Conditions
Most technical writers work in offices where they are directly by the companies that
use their services. Some work for work for technical consulting firms and work in the consulting
firms office or are sent to the customers site to work on short-term or recurring assignments.
some are self-employed as freelance technical writers get paid per assignment.
Technical writers are often under severe time constraints because the details of a product
are not totally fleshed out until the last minute and then the manufacturer expects completed
technical documents to ready immediately so that the product can go to market. Technical writers
may be expected to work evenings and weekends.
Training⁄Education Required to be a Technical Writer
A technical degree and good writing ability is usually required to be a technical writer.
Usually some experience in the subject specialty is also required. For example experience in
the electronics, programming, or medical field may be required. Part of your Training⁄Education
should include mathematics because mathematics is the language of science and engineering.
Part of your Training⁄Education should include creating online content because today
almost all technical documentation goes online.
Technical writer Pay
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, technical writers earn between $37,160
and $100,910 annually, with the median annual earning being $63,280. Wages for technical writers
in the mechanical engineering areas tend to be somewhat lower than those in the software and
information technologies areas.