Education and Skills
A technical writer is required to have professional writing skills and the ability to communicate well with others and take criticism (Van Wicklen, 2001, pg. 24). However, the job requirements go beyond the ability to simply be an advanced writer. They also have to be able to communicate visually, gather information well, and meet deadlines (Van Wicklen, 2001, pg. 24). Careerplanner.com describes the position in more detail:
The primary skill of a technical writer must be the ability to organize information to ensure clarity, logic order, and comprehensible bodies of work. Technical writers have to edit and review their own work as well as the works of other employees. They are expected to keep record of their work, so that change and edits made are always available for reference.Tech writers stay in communication with other personnel in their field, like publishers, executives, and other firms and companies, so that the technical standards may be established and negotiated. They may need to create illustrations, graphs, charts, and other media that present information and enhance their product or review of a product. They might need to make suggestions to others regarding necessary technical corrections - often involving enhancing formatting, content, structure, organization, and clarity - while always keeping the product’s audience in mind.
Someone desiring to embark on a technical writing career is expected to have a bachelor’s degree (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) in either English or a scientific field (Technical Writer Job Description). Work experience is beneficial as well. Salary.com outlines the various levels of technical writers:
- For a Technical Writer I, 0-2 years of experience are required. They are supervised by others.
- For a Technical Writer II, 2-4 years of experience are required. They are expected to be multifaceted in the writing they can do.
- For a Technical Writer III, 4-6 years of experience are required. They may end up leading others, suggesting judgement is valuable.
- For a Technical Writer IV, 6-8 years of experience are required. They lead others in their work.
(Information in this subheading obtained from careers.stateuniversity.com)
Technical writers are required to be able to take material that is geared for experts and translate it into terms more understandable for their audience. The broadness of technical writing as a profession may contribute to the high employment rate and high employment outlook. A technical writer, while required to have professional writing skills, does not necessarily need to be a major or employee in the writing field. Technical writers may be former scientists, technicians, or even experts in non-scientific fields, and they may be required to perform a wide range of tasks, including writing instruction manuals and translating experts’ jargon or technical information into a format that is more understandable to a layman or non-expert audience.Technical writers may write policies and may find employment in a wide range of businesses, such as insurance companies, hospitals, law firms, and banks.Employment is not restricted to professions assumed to be exclusively for writers, tech writers can work for several fields: science, medicine, law, government, journalism, and advertising.
Technical writers also have the liberty to be self-employed as freelance writers. A freelance writer may sell his or her work to corporations and industries. Freelance writers may also be contracted to report about a specific field in which they are specifically educated; for example, many freelancers write about products that are being developed in certain industries.
Employment Outlook and Median Salaries
(Information in this subheading obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
According to 2010 data, the median salary for technical writers is $63,280. Their outlook is growing at 17%, which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is about average. In addition, having technical skills makes an individual a more valuable asset to a company.
Outsourced technical writing groups can be cheaper to hire than a permanent employee because employers do not have to pay for the computers or any of the software an outsourced technical writer utilizes (Young 2006-2013). Essentially, outsourcing involves hiring technical writers that are not directly employed by the company (Creel, 2013). As for offshoring, it is the outsourcing of contracts to workers in a nation other than a business’s own (Creel, 2013).
The claim that outsourcing can be cheaper for a company is substantiated by Ron Creel, who reports that technical writing jobs can be outsourced for $3,000 to $10,000 while an employee might often be paid $60,000 to $80,000 a year (Creel, 2013). Hiring a company that focuses only on technical writing can be more cost effective, but there are some disadvantages to this approach. There can be threats to confidentiality, and managerial control is harder to maintain when workers report to another company (Bucki, 2013). Therefore, it is up to the outsourcer to decide if the low cost of a contract technical writer is worth the sacrifice of some control.
Creel reports that a major concern regarding offshored contracts is the regularity with which the work must be redone; revision increases costs (Creel, 2013). It would seem from this perspective it might be more cost effective to outsource, but not offshore.
For additional information, Dave Young lists ten reasons supporting the outsourcing of technical writing jobs (Young 2006-2013).
Evolution of the Role of Technical Writers
As technology evolves and overtakes the way businesses efficiently complete projects and establish communication, the technical writer’s responsibilities and duties also evolve. In Dave Clark’s article, “Writing (and) Corporate Growth: Texts and Technical/Social Split,” a study was conducted that found that the general expectation of all technical writers to perform actual writing differed from the reality. Clark states the technical writer is sitting on the boundary, “never fully technical nor fully social, and therefore with neither the power nor the limitations of either group.” (pg. 117).
Bucki, James. (2013). Top 6 Outsourcing Disadvantages: Outsourcing Disadvantages: Reasons That Outsourcing is Bad for Your Company. Retreived from http://operationstech.about.com
Clark, Dave. (2001). Writing (and) Corporate Growth: Texts and Technical/Social Split. Business Communications Quarterly. 64(2), 114-119.
Creel, Ron. (2013). Outsourcing vs. offshoring, and how U.S.-based technical writers can stay competitive [Web log post]. Retreived from http://www.yourwritingdept.com/blog/?p=497=1
Technical Writer Job Description, Career as a Technical Writer, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job. Net Industries and its Licensors. Retrieved from StateUniversity Careers website: http://careers.stateuniversity.com/pages/139/Technical-Writer.html
Technical Writers. Retrieved from http://www.careerplanner.com/
Technical Writers: Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website: http://www.bls.gov/
Van Wicklen, Janet. (2001). The Tech Writer’s Survival Guide: A Comprehensive Handbook for Aspiring Technical Writers. New York: Checkmark books. Print.
Young, Dave. 10 Reasons to Outsource Technical Writing Services. Retrieved from
Credits: Chelsea Miller, Anna Fiscella, Alex Lindstrom