What is it?
Technical writing is the marriage of writing skills and technical aptitude. Technical writers take complex, technical information and translate it into clear and easy to understand language. Technical writers create training manuals, user instructions and guides, and technical reports. Updates are often made to instructions and guides based on software updates or bug fixes. Additionally, technical writers may work alongside contracts personnel to craft technical contract proposals. Technical writers should develop superior grammatical skills, proofreading capability, editing, and managing multiple deliverables in a timely manner.
Technical writing is a great field for the detail-oriented person who likes to explain things to others. The normal career path for a technical writer is to start as a junior technical writer and advance to the position of senior technical writer. Some technical writers may move on to be managers, whereas others might consider freelance or consulting work. Depending on education and experience, some can even branch into roles such as business analyst, usability specialist, information architect, or project manger.
Don’t wait for a job to start developing your technical writing capabilities. You can start building your resume today. Find an open source project and begin writing some documentation for it. Start your own blog, and begin contributing to online communities in your industry. The more writing you do, the better at it you will be.
Education and Training
Technical writing positions typically require a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, communications, or a related field. Some technical writers enter the field with a degree in an applicable technical specialty. While subject matter expertise could be beneficial, the writing component of the job cannot be ignored.
Skills and Certifications
While technical writers may not require specific certifications, you are expected to be proficient in online publishing software and programs. Ideally, you should learn at least three different types of programs: a graphics tool, an online help authoring tool, and a video capture tool. Also, expect a writing test to be a part of the interview process, and have several good writing samples to provide with every application.
A Typical Day as a Cleared Technical Writer
(A cleared technical writer will have varied responsibilities depending on the program or agency; however, below is an example of some things a technical writer can expect to accomplish throughout the course of a day.)
08:00 – Arrive at work and log-into your computer. Check emails and respond to pressing emails. Check the day’s calendar of meetings.
09:00 – Meet with project team members to identify any changes in the application, discussing new features or functionality.
10:00 – Return to desk and update help documentation and project documentation.
11:30 – Experiment and test the application and follow up with software engineers to clarify functionality questions.
12:30 – Lunch meeting with project manager and/or subject matter experts to understand user characteristics and tasks.
13:00 – Create screenshots for user documentation. Discover new functionality in software application and update testing documentation and user guides.
14:00 – Proofread proposals and project documentation.
15:30 – Project team meeting to discuss the bug list and implications to project schedule.
16:00 – Follow up on emails and check schedule for the following day before heading out the door for home.
Security Clearance Concerns
Depending on the work, technical writers will need at least a secret clearance. Projects for some agencies may require a TS/SCI security clearance.