How to Become a Technical Writer

How to Become a Technical Writer: Career Path Guide

To become a technical writer, you need to begin by determining if this career is a good fit for you. Are you interested in a career that allows you to combine your interest in writing with your interest in technology?


Are you able to handle the occasional frustrations of a career in modern journalism, such as tight deadlines and travel? Do you have the patience to build a portfolio while your career develops?


If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to these questions, a career as a science writer is probably a good fit for you.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to succeed in a career as a technical writer. We've also included helpful information for a technical writer career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Technical Writer 

Although educational requirements may vary by project and by employer, you generally need at least a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, communications or a related field to enter this profession.


Some technical writers have a background education in a technical field, although if you are planning on entering technical writing from this route, it is recommended to take a few classes in communications, journalism or English.   


Regardless of your primary field of study, pursuing coursework in the following areas can be particularly helpful towards a career as a technical writer:


• Technical writing

• Writing theory

• Journalism

• Fiction

• Non-fiction

• Editing

• Web writing




Technical Writer Job Description

Technical writers are responsible for converting complex technical information into simpler language so that individuals who do not possess a technical background can easily understand it. They must shape and deliver information in such a manner as to meet the needs of a target audience.



Technical Writer Job Duties

• Compose articles or features related to technological advancements or innovations within a specified field

• Write content for on-line help files, reference materials, educational materials, procedural and policy manuals, user guides, proposals, technical reports and instructional materials that explain the installation, operation and maintenance of mechanical, electronic and other equipment

• Consult product or systems experts in order to gain an understanding of the subject of the composition

• Research subject of article or feature by analyzing reference materials, such as blueprints, reports, diagrams or maintenance manuals

• Select the appropriate media by which to present the article or feature

• Create additional resources for the article or feature, such as diagrams or interactive learning processes, if applicable

• Ensure the composition adheres to in-house style formatting and guidelines



Who Hires Technical Writers?

There are many organizations that are interested in utilizing the ability of technical writers to present complicated information in a simplified manner. Technical writers may be employed full time, part time or on a freelance basis by organizations and businesses such as:


• Colleges and universities

• Software development companies

• Internet design firms and multimedia content providers

• Corporate communications and human resource departments

• Construction and safety companies

• Private research organizations

• Oil, gas companies and mining companies

• Military contractors

• Federal, provincial/state and municipal government departments

• Not-for-profit organizations

• Medical technology firms

• Insurance companies

• Pharmaceutical companies





Skills and Attributes Needed to Become a Technical Writer

It takes more than education and a job opportunity to truly succeed as a technical writer; you also need to have a certain skills set, as well as a set of personality traits in order to do your job effectively. These skills and traits include:


• Keen interest in technology

• Excellent communication skills using a variety of mediums, such as graphics, video, text and audio

• Able to adapt to the utilization of new technologies

• Have a sharp eye for detail

• Able to meet the needs of the audience; both in content and presentation

• A good grasp of grammar, and the ability to express ideas clearly in writing

• The ability to deal with and learn from criticism

• Methodical approach to compiling information

• Very persistent, objective, creative and resourceful

• Knowledge of technology that ranges from basic to expert, depending on the project



Experience Needed to Become a Technical Writer

To become a technical writer that is hired on a full time basis, or a freelance technical writer that has a multitude of clients and a steady stream of work, you typically need to have a certain amount of industry experience, as employers prefer these candidates because they do not require training. Employers want to be sure that technical writers can work in any situation, and they are typically more confident that candidates with technical writing experience can get the job done.


One great way to gain experience for your future career as a technical writer is to work within a publishing company or within the corporate communications department of an organization on a part-time, volunteer, entry-level or internship capacity. This will offer you a chance to get practical writing and layout design experience, and build a portfolio of your samples.


Be sure to build a physical and online portfolio of your best technical writing samples, as this will serve to sell your skills for you. Someone with 15 years of industry experience and a lousy portfolio may not get a technical writing job over a candidate with 1 year of experience and a very impressive portfolio. 



Technical Writer Salary: How Much Do They Earn?

The salary level of technical writers can vary based on factors such as whether they are employed on a freelance or full-time basis, their level of experience, their reputation, how many clients they have, where they work, and many others.


Technical Writer Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Authors and Writers occupational group, which includes technical writers, earn an average wage of between $29.24 to $39.73 per hour.


Technical Writer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of workers in the Technical Writers occupational group is $63,280 per year. The lowest 10 percent of salaries in this group are less than $37,160, and the highest 10 percent are more than $100,910 per year.



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Careers Related to Technical Writer

Listed below are jobs that are similar in nature to that of Technical Writer, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.



Financial Journalist


Medical Writer

Science Writer



References: Technical Writer Career

Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a technical writer.


Occupations in Alberta:Technical Writer.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Media & Communication: Technical Writers.” (September 4, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Technical Writer

Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that apply to becoming a Technical Writer can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Technical Writer: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a technical writer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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