How to Become a Professional Technical Writer
Do you like writing and technology? If you do, then a career as a technical writer might be of interest to you.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has revealed through research that the demand for technical writers will grow 10 percent until 2024, due to the increase in scientific and technical products.
As a technical writer, you will become a lifelong learner. Not only will the technical field of writing develop rapidly, but with each document you write, you soon will become an expert in that subject. You will need to have an in-depth knowledge of the product, so you will be able to select just those elements of information the consumer needs to know and can include them in your documentation.
Before telling you how to become a technical writer, here some of the most important skills you need to develop:
1. Analyze your audience and understand the user. You are writing for the user of a product who needs to be able to solve a problem. A clear understanding of the user’s knowledge, expectations, and needs will help you to serve the user in the best way possible.
2. Think UX (user experience). Make sure the content you create for your user is useful, task-based, accessible, easy to navigate, legible, and easy to understand.
3. Learn to communicate with subject matter experts and gather information. Dare to ask questions and only stop asking when you have a full understanding of the product’s lifecycle: from unpacking to disposal, via installation, commissioning, use, maintenance, troubleshooting repair until the last phase, disposal.
4. Analyze, map, and structure the information you have gathered. Only when you have defined a clear structure will you be able to create a logically organized and easy-to-navigate document within which users can find answers to their problems efficiently.
6. Develop a neutral and clear writing style:
- Use the active voice (e.g.,Push the buttoninstead of Now you can push the button).
- Use plain language.
- Use short sentences.
- Use only one instruction per sentence.
- Write task-based instructions.
- Avoid ambiguous words.
- Avoid jargon.
- Consider using simplified technical English or the principles of minimalism in technical writing.
- Learn to create visuals, such as tables, illustrations, print screens, and video. Apply clear and consistent formatting. Technical documentation contains different types of information, such as safety warnings, instructions, and contextual information. Consistent formatting of the different types helps users recognize the information.
- Review carefully: Eliminate grammar mistakes and technical inaccuracies.
How to Learn These skills
Since you don’t need a degree in technical writing, there are several ways to learn on your own the skills needed for great technical writing.
Practical experience and a portfolio can be sufficient to win gigs or impress employers. And platforms such as Udemy and Coursera offer useful courses. Of course, you also can choose a more traditional way and get a Bachelor’s degree in technical writing.
If you believe technical writing might be a good fit for you, here are some to follow:
1. Learn the skills mentioned above.
2. Build a portfolio: Write manuals for products or software you have in your home or rewrite manuals you have found online that could be written better.
3. Look for a job in technical writing:
- Ask your boss if there are possibilities within your current company to do technical writing.
- Ask your existing network if they know where you could get to know about current opportunities.
- Search for technical writing jobs on job sites.
- Create a profile on platforms such as Upwork to win freelancer gigs.
Technical wring is an interesting field that combines technology, writing, information structuring, visualisation, design, communication, and much more. There are many prominent areas where you can find work, such as in software, defense, energy, health, and security. As there is a growing demand, the jobs are relatively well-paid. By mastering your skills, you will be in a good position to negotiate your fee.
Ferry Vermeulen is the director at INSTRKTIV, a company that specializes in creating user-friendly instructions that meet legal requirements. Vermeulen’s blog has more than 6,000 visitors a month. He regularly speaks at conferences worldwide. Want to know more about how to create user instructions? Read one of his latest articles about how to create a user manual by using a User Manual Template.