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Job description: Technical writer

Technical writers, sometimes known as technical authors, present complex and technical information about products and services in a way that is jargon free and easy to understand. This can be in the form of user guides or instruction manuals for items such as software applications or household appliances.

Job description: Technical writer

Technical writers do not just supply written information but also interactive tutorials, diagrams and video guides. Their work is usually for consumers of products but they can also summarise technical information for the internal staff of an organisation. Technical writers are found in many different sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, IT and government.

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The day-to-day

Typically a technical writer will:

  • Visit internal development teams to fully research the product he or she is writing about
  • Gather more information from reading reports and directly using the product
  • Analyse the information needs of the user
  • Work with sales and marketing specialists to understand existing user materials and the purpose of new guides
  • Write high quality, easy to understand material, print or online, for user guides/instruction manuals
  • Proofread, scrutinise and edit own work and the work of others
  • Make amendments to written material in line with the suggestions of other departments
  • Commission illustrations, diagrams and photographs and incorporate them into text
  • Commission or present video guides
  • Create tutorials for users or internal staff
  • Adapt communications for different audiences
  • Edit and update existing user guides and marketing materials
  • Mentor and train other writers
  • Attend planning and briefing meetings
  • Index and catalogue material

Key skills

  • Writing and editing skills: The most basic skill you need to have is the ability to write. But a specialist kind of writing skill is in demand here – the ability to translate technical language into a form of words everyone can understand. This hinges upon an ability to understand the technology in the first place, which is not a skill everyone will possess. As a technical writer you will also have to patiently scrutinise your work and that of others.
  • Software and IT skills: Technical writers need a good working knowledge of MS Office applications but often also Powerpoint, Javascript, HTML and CSS. And multi-media skills, such as web design and video production, are increasingly coming to the fore.
  • Interpersonal skills: As a technical writer you will spend a lot of time interacting with internal ‘experts’ who develop the products you write about. You need to possess the ability to tease out their technical knowledge and put it into simplified, but not over-simplified, language.

Qualifications

An undergraduate degree is expected here. ‘Technical’ degrees in computer science or engineering are considered the best subjects but, conversely, English may also stand you in good stead. Sometimes an HND qualification in the area you wish to work in will suffice. Career qualifications can be accessed through the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators.

Relevant experience

Some employers recruit technical writers fresh from university. But often at least two years’ experience in technical writing, especially in the sector you wish to work in, is desired. What is essential is a ‘portfolio’ of sample writing you can show employers.

 

Salary

£25,000-£45,000 per annum. Technical writers are sometimes paid by the hour. A rate of £30-£40 per hour is the common range.

Hours

Typical Working Hours: 9:30am-5.30pm

 

Standard office hours of 9.30am-5.30pm. Some travel between company locations is often part of the job. Technical writers may be permitted to work from home occasionally.

Career opportunities

Your next steps may include:

  • Senior writer
  • Copywriter
  • Data science trainer

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