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Technical Writers - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Some technical writers begin their careers not as writers, but as specialists in a technical field or as research assistants or trainees in a technical information department. By transferring or developing technical communication skills, they eventually assume primary responsibilities for technical writing. In small firms, beginning technical writers may work on projects right away; in larger companies with more standard procedures, beginners may observe experienced technical writers and interact with specialists before being assigned projects. Prospects for advancement generally include working on more complex projects, leading or training junior staff, and getting enough work to make it as a freelancer.

Many firms and freelancers provide technical writing services on a contract basis, often to small or not-for-profit organizations that do not have enough regular work to employ technical writers full time. Building a reputation and establishing a record for meeting deadlines also makes it easier to get future assignments. An experienced, credible, and reliable freelance technical writer or editor often is able to establish long-term dealings with the same companies.

Technical writers held about 48,900 jobs in 2008. There are technical writers in almost every industry, but they are concentrated in industries related to computer systems and software, publishing (except Internet), science, and engineering. The industry that employed the most technical writers in 2008 was the computer systems design industry, which had 18 percent of these workers. The second-largest employer was the computer and electronic manufacturing industry, with 8 percent of workers. Software publishers; architectural, engineering, and related services; management, scientific, and technical consulting services; and scientific research and development services industries also employed a sizeable number of technical writers. Two percent of technical writers were self-employed in 2008.

Jobs usually are concentrated in areas with high information technology or scientific and technical research industry employment, such as San Francisco and San Jose, CA; Boston, MA; and Washington, DC. However, technology permits technical writers to work in one location while communicating with clients and colleagues in another. As a result, geographic concentration is less of a requirement than it once was.

Job Outlook
Employment of technical writers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations as the need to explain a growing number of electronic and scientific products increases. Job prospects are expected to be good for those with solid writing and communications skills and a technical background.

Job Growth
Employment of technical writers is expected to grow 18 percent, or faster than the average for all occupations, from 2008 to 2018. Demand over this decade is expected to increase because of the continuing expansion of scientific and technical information and the growing presence of customer service and Web-based product support networks. Legal, scientific, and technological developments and discoveries will generate demand for people who can interpret technical information for a general audience. Rapid growth and change in the high-technology and electronics industries will result in a greater need for people who can write users' guides, instruction manuals, and training materials in a variety of formats and communicate information clearly to others. This occupation requires workers who are both skilled writers and effective communicators and familiar with a specialized subject area.

Increasing acceptance of interactive media to provide nearly real-time information will create employment opportunities for technical writers because of the need to revise online information. Businesses and organizations are making more material available online often in formats that permit greater scrutiny and comparison of detailed information. The growing amount and complexity of information available on the Web will spur demand for technical writers. Professional, scientific, and technical services firms will continue to grow and should be a good source of new jobs even as the occupation finds acceptance in a broader range of industries, including data processing, hosting, and related services and educational services.

Job prospects, especially for applicants with solid communication and technical skills, are expected to be good. The growing reliance on technologically sophisticated products in the home and the workplace and the increasing complexity of medical or scientific information needed for daily living will create many new job opportunities for technical writers. However, competition will exist for technical writing positions with more desirable companies and for workers who are new to the occupation.

In addition to job openings created by employment growth, some openings will arise as experienced workers retire, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force. Also, many freelancers may not earn enough money by freelancing to remain in the occupation, thus generating additional job openings.

Median annual wages for salaried technical writers were $61,620 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $47,100 and $78,910. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,500, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,460.

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