What does a technical writer do?
A technical writer (also known as a technical author) is responsible for using their technical knowledge to write specialist information about products and services, how they work or how to use them. They may create user guides, maintenance and operating instructions, journal articles, training videos, blogs or interactive demos for their audience. In this role, you will need to have a thorough understanding of technical applications (software), products or services to then explain them to others.
Technical writer job description
Exact responsibilities may vary depending on the type of organisation and industry, but as a general rule you will be required to:
- Gather information about the product or service in question to understand how it works and the technology behind it
- Undertake target audience analysis to determine the type of technical documentation that is required to be created
- Organise the collected information to create and edit documentation, videos or blogs for the user
- Assess the content for clarity, consistency and conciseness to ensure it is free of mistakes, easy to follow and up-to-date
- Revise, review or modify documents prepared by others
Types of employers
Technical writers are required to work across a variety of industries, so you could look for jobs with:
- Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies
- Medical device companies
- Energy companies
- Engineering companies
- Research and development organisations
- Automotive companies
- Technical publishers
To find out who’s hiring right now, search technical writer jobs here.
Qualifications and experience required
You will usually be required to hold an undergraduate degree to become a technical writer. Relevant subjects include engineering, journalism, sciences or technology – and can all improve your career prospects. You won’t need to undertake a postgraduate qualification to gain work as a technical writer, however it can sometimes be advantageous within very competitive companies or if your undergraduate degree is not in a related subject.
Alternatively, you may be able to get into the profession by undertaking specialised training courses, such as technical communication or content planning. The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC) can provide details of relevant short courses and how to apply to them, if university is or was not the right path for you.
In terms of experience, it is extremely beneficial to have some practical work experience that relates to technical writing. This can be done through university placements, summer internships or module assignments, to show your interest in the field and ability to communicate effectively. You may want to create a portfolio of your work which you can then take to interviews and showcase to employers.
Find downloadable CV and cover letter templates here.
How to become a technical writer
To become a technical writer, you will need to have a range of skills, including:
- Excellent communication and editorial skills
- The ability to produce visually attractive documentation through graphics and text
- Attention to detail
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Good organisation, planning and project management abilities
- The ability to handle large amounts of information
- A methodical approach to working
- The ability to work to tight deadlines
- Good IT skills
Within an interview, you are likely to be asked questions that explore your familiarity with technical writing projects and the tools used to create them, such as “describe a time you worked on a technical writing project alongside a cross-functional team” or “what software tools do you use on a daily basis?”. An employer may also want to know about the challenges you have faced in a previous role, as well as how you overcame them to complete your work. You should always use the STAR technique when answering interview questions, which you can find out more about here.
There are a variety of ways to search for technical writing positions. Job sites such as New Scientist, Just Engineers and Indeed are a great place to start, as well as professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Specialist recruitment agencies like CK Technical are one of the most effective ways to find engineering and IT roles, as they are able to offer tailored advice and support as well as speak with employers directly to provide candidate recommendations.
Sign up to CK+ to apply for roles at the click of a button and receive job alerts straight to your inbox here.
The starting salary for technical writer roles is usually between £18,000 and £25,000, although this can vary depending on the type of company and location of the job. With some experience under your belt, this can rise to an average of £35,000 to £45,000.
You may be able to earn more as a freelancer or contractor.
There are a variety of career progression possibilities, such as:
- Progression into a more senior role that takes on a higher level of responsibility and the opportunity to manage teams
- A move into a different industry using the transferrable skills gained
- A move into a different area of the business such as customer experience or quality assurance
- Becoming a freelance or contract worker