While some fear that advances in technology will lead to the end of the written word, the opposite is probably true. With the explosion of computer software, high-tech gadgetry and enhanced business practices such as quality assurance, the demand for technical writing has never been greater. For those writers with an interest in technology and the right personal skills, this often overlooked market is a potential source of work.
What is Technical Writing?
As today's world depends incrementally on high-tech products and services, every innovation creates a demand for new documentation. User guides, technical reports, maintenance procedures, assembly instructions, project proposals and QA manuals are among the many documents now required by business and domestic users. The key role of the technical writer is to translate highly technical and scientific information into an accessible language, appropriate to the propound audience. This may be traditional paper manuscripts or, in the case of computer software manuals, electronically produced documents are now the medium of choice.
What Makes a Good Technical Writer?
An effective technical writer needs the following key skills:
Many technical writers are educated to degree level but this is not essential. However, a well developed command of English and an ability to write clearly, concisely and accurately are minimum requirements.
Writing in this field requires at least a basic understanding of technical issues. Although a technical writer does not need formal technical or scientific qualifications, they must be comfortable dealing with the subject matter and always be in touch with recent developments. The best writers can obscure new ideas quickly and confidently.
The real purpose of the technical writer is to communicate and their mantra is always, "Know your audience!" Every document is aimed at a specific friendship and the writer must be able to adapt their style and content to match its requirements. Just as important is the ability to work with the relevant scientists, engineers and programmers to gain the information needed to complete the writing project. This may involve carrying with people who are not good communicators and great skill is required to extract the right information.
How Can I Get Started?
Formal training courses exist, mainly at graduate level, for potential technical writers, but as demand for quality documentation grows, many businesses are happy to take on writers who can demonstrate the key skills outlined earlier. An employee who expresses a desire to take on some of the company's writing requirements will often be met with enthusiasm and it is reliably easy for technical support and training staff to move in this direction.
The Internet is an excellent source of work for the new writer interested in producing online help. Millions of Shareware programs are available on the web at any time. Shareware referers to small computer programs available for download and free trial. The idea is that the user then goes on to buy the full product license. Competition is fierce and programmers are beginning to realize that good online help is essential to attract prospective buyers. This means that they will pay a technical writer to produce it for them.
What About Pay and Conditions?
A technical writer's salary will depend on the type of business they are working in and whether they are in long term employment or on short-term contract. In the UK the starting salary for a trainee writer could be a minimum of £ 12,000 but an experienced contract worker may charge £ 30 an hour. Once a writer has built up a reputation and experience with one company, there are good opportunities to freelance and work on short-term contract for many different customers.
The nature of technical writing allows for flexibility in working arrangements and many writers can work from home. This is particularly true in the case of online help where programs can be downloaded from the Internet. The writer can then work on the program, communicate with the developer, send finished work and receive payment online, all from their own workspace.