Job Profile: Become a technical writer
Posted on
March 8, 2022

You love to write — but the gravity of your technical skills seems keeps pulling you, inevitably, back to grind of solving tickets, building networks, installing systems, coding applications or blockchain engineering. Is there a career niche for someone who loves to help others, loves to write, and has a strong technical skill set?

There is indeed. Welcome to the wide-open world of technical writing. What does a technical writer do? They do whatever they’re asked to do, ranging from documentation of complex IT processes, to creation of user-friendly IT instruction manuals, to translation of IT jargon into layman’s terms for news publications, blogs, websites, and more.

The job

Put simply, a technical writer is an information and documentation communicator and facilitator. A good technical writers uses their technical knowledge to create instructional and technical manuals, assessments, and training guides. They translate sometimes very technical language into easy understandable and digestible documents. A technical writer is responsible for organizing content into a document easily understood by non-technical readers.

Technical writers carry out research and create and deliver information through a variety of media, such as print, electronic, and audio-visual. They must understand the subject matter thoroughly, so they can document it. It is imperative that the technical writer be astute in the technology they are documenting.

Professional technical writers represent a valuable resource for IT business leaders and technical staff to accomplish their communication goals. They create manuals, online help documents, white papers, project plans, design specifications, and software test plans.

With the rise in e-learning, technical writers are also often asked to create online training material to help workers understand and internalize IT skills and processes. A good technical writer can make a living writing and publishing IT training and educational materials for online learning portals.

The technical writer job role and those who fill it are of continued interest to companies because technical writers also assist manufacturers, designers, companies, and clients in developing technical information. Computer and engineering companies often hire a technical writer on a full-time basis because he or she specialize in writing about technical topics that include medical procedures, computer applications, and environmental regulations.

Any technical company that wants to have a thorough, documented understanding of their systems should employee a technical writer. A technical writer writes company documents such as instruction manuals, intermediate to end-user manuals, reference guides, operating procedure guides, white papers, and technical product descriptions.

Depending on their specific area of expertise, technical writers may also write journal articles, occupational outlook handbooks, and other high-quality documentation.  

New horizons

Where technical writers were employed previously primarily for documentation, the specialization and knowledge changing are centered around collaboration. Technical writers must be housed and grouped with engineers. Collaboration has become tremendously important, whereas before, there was a “hand-off” to technical writers from the engineers.

Two other emerging areas of focus, outside the enhanced collaboration of technical writers with engineers, is the specialization in advanced documentation writing — such as blockchain concepts — and the tendency to blur the line between UI design and technical writing. As the world evolves to call technical writers, technical communicators, the technologies themselves are also evolving.

A few years back, most of the world didn’t know what bitcoin was or how blockchain would need to be communicated to non-technical personnel at technical companies. Who knew we would need to write out how our new application adopted a blockchain methodology to keep track of user clicks and engagement? This ever-evolving landscape of technology has pushed technical writers to create new prose to describe these emerging technologies.

There’s also an ever-increasing demand on technical writers to write self-help guides, tool tips and UI/UX buttons, pop-ups, and labels. There are so many places in a UI (User Interface) scheme that have “words” or language. These, of course, can be misinterpreted or simply spelled wrong and technical writers are often employed to lord over the process of making sure the end-user receives this critical information correctly.

Education and certification

Overall, it’s important to note that some studies have found that specializing in writing specific content is not as desirable as cultivating a broad knowledge of technology. This backs up my general belief that a “jack of all trades” approach still beats a granular focus — a competent generalist is most often preferred. If you want to be a technical writer, then you need to be able to learn new technology as well as knowing how to write.

To become a really qualified technical writer, I believe that you need a background in communication, journalism, or a related discipline. Individuals who start off this way and then are employed in a technology environment, who develop their technical/engineering skill set after learning to write, are best positioned to succeed.

Get your writing ability honed and then apply it after you get a job in a technical field, learning the technology of the company you are at. It’s often considered easier to pick up technology on the fly than it is to pick up top-tier writing and communication skills on the fly.

Besides getting a four-year degree — recommended for any business professional — there are, believe it or not, few certifications recommended for technical writers. The first is the Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC) offered by the Society for Technical Communication (STC). It costs around $700 and has three tier levels. You also have to be a member of the STC, much like PMI’s membership for its Project Management Professional (PMP) credential.

There is also the Certified Techical Writer credential — you’ll want to follow the Technical Writing Certification Course track — offered by Technical Writer HQ. While cheaper than most, this certification is no less effective. Areas of focus include analyzing your audience, case study analysis, and even interview questions. This certification will put you ahead of most other candidates out there.

Go for it

If you love to write, have a degree in writing, and can easily pick up technical ideas and concepts, then this career path may be perfect for you. Who knows? You might even pick up a side-gig writing articles for an IT certification magazine.

About the Author
Nathan Kimpel

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills includes finance, as well as ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.

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