Technical Writers - What They Do

Technical writers, also called technical communicators, put technical information into easily understandable language. They work primarily in information-technology-related industries, coordinating the development and dissemination of technical content for a variety of users; however, a growing number of technical communicators are using technical content to resolve business communications problems in a diversifying number of industries. Included in their products are operating instructions, how-to manuals, assembly instructions, and other documentation needed for online help and by technical support staff, consumers, and other users within the company or industry. Technical writers also develop documentation for computer programs and set up communications systems with consumers to assess customer satisfaction and quality control matters. In addition, they commonly work in engineering, scientific, healthcare, and other areas in which highly specialized material needs to be explained to a diverse audience, often of laypersons.

Technical writers often work with engineers, scientists, computer specialists, and software developers to manage the flow of information among project workgroups during development and testing. They also may work with product liability specialists and customer service or call center managers to improve the quality of product support and end-user assistance. Technical writers also oversee the preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts. Technical writers increasingly are using a variety of multimedia formats to convey information in such a way that complex concepts can be understood easily by users of the information.

Applying their knowledge of the user of the product, technical writers may serve as part of a team conducting usability studies to help improve the design of a product that is in the prototype stage. Technical writers may conduct research on their topics through personal observation, library and Internet research, and discussions with technical specialists. They also are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter and establish their credibility with their colleagues.

Technical writers use computers and other electronic communications equipment extensively in performing their work. They also work regularly with desktop and other electronic publishing software and prepare material directly for the Internet. Technical writers may work with graphic design, page layout, and multimedia software; increasingly, they are preparing documents by using the interactive technologies of the Web to blend text, graphics, multidimensional images, and sound.

Some technical writers work on a freelance or contract basis. They either are self-employed or work for a technical consulting firm and may be hired to complete specific short-term or recurring assignments, such as writing about a new product or coordinating the work and communications of different units to keep a project on track. Whether a project is to be coordinated among an organization's departments or among autonomous companies, technical writers ensure that the different entities share information and mediate differences in favor of the end user in order to bring a product to market sooner.

Work Environment

Technical writers held about 52,300 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of technical writers were as follows:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services - 37%
  • Manufacturing - 16%
  • Administrative and support services - 8%
  • Publishing industries (except Internet) - 6%

Most technical writers work full time. They routinely work with engineers and other technology experts to manage the flow of information throughout an organization.

Although most technical writers are employed directly by the companies that use their services, some freelance and are paid per assignment. Freelancers are either self-employed or work for a technical consulting firm and are given short-term or recurring assignments, such as writing about a new product.

Technical writing jobs are usually concentrated in locations with a multitude of information technology or scientific and technical research companies, such as ones in California and Texas.

Work Schedules

Technical writers may be expected to work evenings and weekends to meet deadlines.

Education & Training Required

Employers look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree, often preferring those with a major in communications, journalism, or English. Some technical writing jobs may require both experience and either a degree or knowledge in a specialized field—for example, engineering, medicine, or one of the sciences; others have broader requirements, such as a background in liberal arts. Knowledge of a second language is helpful for some positions. Experience in Web design and computer graphics also is helpful, because of the growing use of online technical documentation.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)

Technical writers must have excellent writing and communication skills and be able to express ideas clearly and logically in a variety of media. Increasingly, technical writers need familiarity with electronic publishing, graphics, and sound and video production. Also needed is knowledge of computer software for combining online text with graphics, audio, video, and animation, as well as the ability to manage large, complex, and interconnected files.

Technical writers must be detail oriented, curious, persistent in solving problems, self-motivated, and able to understand complex material and explain it clearly. Technical writers also must demonstrate good working relationships and sensitivity toward others, especially those from different backgrounds. In addition, the ability to work under pressure and in a variety of work settings is essential.

Technical Writers - What They Do - Page 2

Academic Programs of Interest

American Literature
The study of American Literature refers to written or literary work produced in the area of the United States and Colonial America. While majoring in American Literature, you can expect to encounter such literary luminaries as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe. more
Comparative Literature
Comparative literature is critical scholarship dealing with the literature of two or more different linguistic, cultural or national groups. While most frequently practiced with works of different languages, it may also be performed on works of the same language if the works originate from different nations or cultures among which that language is spoken. more
Creative Writing
Unlike its academic counterpart of writing classes that teach students to compose work based on the rules of the language, creative writing is believed to focus on students' self-expression. While creative writing as an educational subject is often available somewhere, if not throughout, K-12 education, perhaps the most refined form of creative writing as an educational focus is in the university setting. Following the reworking... more
English
As a broad program of study, the English Major provides students with an opportunity to analyze works of literature and film originally written in English. Such an analysis prompts students to exercise both critical thinking skills, in which they analyze and reflect upon a text such that they can later interpret it and find meaning, and to present the results of their analysis in clear,... more
English Composition
Many universities have a required freshman, or first-year, composition course. This is not always the same as a literature course, which focuses on literary analysis and interpretation; rather, composition courses are often intensive instruction in writing non-fiction, expository texts using academic discourse conventions. Writing curricula vary considerably from institution to institution, but may emphasize the many stages of the writing process (invention or brainstorming, drafting,... more
English Literature
The term English Literature refers to the study of literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; Joseph Conrad was Polish, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, Salman Rushdie is Indian, V.S. Naipaul is Trinidadian, Vladimir Nabokov was Russian. In other words, English literature is... more
Journalism
Journalism is a discipline of gathering, writing and reporting news, and broadly it includes the process of editing and presenting the news articles. Journalism applies to various media, but not limited to newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.

While under pressure to be the first to publish their stories, news media organizations each adhere to its own standards of accuracy, quality, and style - usually editing... more
Playwriting and Screenwriting
A playwright, also known as a dramatist, is a person who writes dramatic literature or drama. These works may be written specifically to be performed by actors or they may be closet dramas or literary works written using dramatic forms but not meant for performance.

Screenwriters, scenarists, or script writers, are authors who write the screenplays from which movies and television programs are made. Many... more
Technical Writing
Technical writing is a subset of technical communication, is used in fields as diverse as computer hardware and software, chemistry, the aerospace industry, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, and biotechnology.

Technical writing exists to communicate and disseminate useful information. Technical communications are created and distributed by most employees in service organizations today, especially by professional staff and management. Writing well is difficult and time-consuming, and writing... more