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Top 10 what’s it like being a technical writer That Will Change Your Life

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Technical Writing Pays a Lot, but is it an Ideal Career for You?

Technical writing can be a great career if you can adapt to its demands

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

I got out of prison in 1998. I faced a lot of discrimination because of my criminal record and had a hard time finding decent jobs. My first job was loading beer into diesel trucks. It was very strenuous and paid $8 an hour.

After several people told me I needed to get a good education to find better jobs, I looked thru a local university course catalog and stumbled on technical writing. I later got my BA in Technical and Professional Writing.

I landed my first technical writing contract in 2002 and by early-2005, I was making $80,000 a year. This was almost as much as I was making during many of my drug-dealing years, and it was legal! After taxes, I sadly made significantly less than $80,000, but I was doing something I enjoyed. And it was legal. I sometimes had to deal with pushy project managers and office politics, but it was a lot better than dealing with angry cellmates and prison politics.

In this article, I’m going to give you some details about technical writing that will help you decide if it’s a good career choice for you.

What is Technical writing?

Technical writing is the creation of documents that communicate information or show people how to do new things. It’s an extremely broad field. Technical writers work in almost every area of business and technology.

Technical writing is used to communicate information in the form of reports, business plans, white papers, technical specifications, policies, and many other documents. It’s also used to create user guides, standard operating procedures, knowledge bases, training material, and other documents that show people how to do new things.

Most technical writing involves 2 primary areas: end-user documentation or highly technical documentation for engineers, software developers, and other more technical people. Examples of end-user documentation are cooking recipes, the user guide you got with your new smartphone, or that Medium article that showed you how to publish an article to a publication.

Examples of engineering-related documents include guides that show technical people how to design and create software, drugs, cars, aircraft, electronic devices, and appliances.

How much does it pay?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median 2020 pay for technical writers in the US was $74,650 a year.

Salaries vary a lot, depending on the job location, area of technical writing, and years of experience you have. Technology is one of the highest-paying areas of technical writing. Writers who specialize in software development documentation and medical writing are among the top-paid technical writers.

The average annual 2020 salary in California was $95,170 because California has a ton of technology companies and the cost of living is so high. The average 2020 salary in Florida was $62,640 and in Logan, Utah, it was $59,010.

Contract technical writers, like me, tend to make more per hour because companies usually don’t give us health benefits, vacation pay, 401(k), or other perks that full-time, permanent employees get. Entry-level technical writers can easily earn between $15 and $28 per hour during their first or second year. I generally make between $52 and $65 per hour, mostly because I have 20 years of experience and live in California.

I’m currently making about $120,000 a year at an IT consulting company that — ironically — supports the California prison system, where I was once incarcerated.

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Experienced technical writers who land jobs at huge, well-known technology companies can sometimes earn between $100,000 and $140,000 a year.

Required skills

You need a combination of soft and technical skills to become a successful technical writer.

Technical skills

The most important thing you need is strong writing skills. You must be able to write in a very organized, coherent manner. You need excellent grammar, punctuation, and editing skills.

You’ll need to know how to use desktop publishing software. Advanced Microsoft Word skills are a must. You have to know how to create styles, use tracked changes, create a template, use hyperlinks, change the document layout, and many advanced Word features. Adobe InDesign is another popular desktop publishing tool that some technical writers use.

There’s a good chance you’ll later need to know a more advanced desktop publishing tool, such as unstructured FrameMaker, which is used to create very long documents that feature intricate and robust formatting.

Some companies require technical writers to know or learn structured authoring tools like structured FrameMaker or oXygen. These applications allow writers to create topic-based content and re-use content for different output mediums, such as PDF and web help.

Technical writers also use document management systems, which store technical documents. Examples include SharePoint, Confluence, Google Drive, or Dropbox.

It’s also good to know some graphic programs, such as Snag-it, PhotoShop, and Visio. I’ve used PhotoShop for some projects, but have used Snag-it and Visio on almost every project I’ve worked on.

You’ll also need to know PowerPoint so you can create presentations, and you need to be proficient at Excel and Adobe Acrobat.

Soft skills

You need great verbal communication, listening, and people skills. You’ll be working with software developers, engineers, and other subject matter experts (SMEs). You’ll be asking them a LOT of questions about the topics you’ll be writing about.

You’ll be asking for peoples’ time — even when they’re reluctant to provide it. You have to be intellectually curious and analytical, which are skills that many of us writers already have. You’ll have to spend a LOT of time researching new concepts and technologies and learning new things. You need great organizational and time management skills. You’ll likely be juggling multiple projects with different delivery dates and milestones.

You must work well under pressure, be patient, and comfortably adapt to constantly-changing conditions. After completing a draft document with 11 screen illustrations, you may find that the development team decided to change the screen elements and now you’ll need 11 new screenshots.

Product requirements and features change quite often. Delivery timelines can move forward and back. Documents will have to be rewritten a large number of times.

You’ll find that the only constant is change.

Getting started

Education/Programs

I definitely recommend taking some technical writing courses and getting at least a certificate or minor in technical writing or a related writing field. If you’re really serious, consider a BA or BS. Google the best school in your area or find an online school.

I got my BA in Technical and Professional Writing from San Francisco State University, which has an excellent undergraduate program. It also has minor and certificate programs. Here’s a list of some other schools I found.

  • University of Minnesota BS in Technical Writing & Communication
  • Carnegie Mellon B.S. in Technical Writing and Communication
  • San Jose State University BA with Concentration in Professional and Technical Writing
  • Southern New Hampshire University Communication — Professional Writing Bachelor’s Degree
  • University of Wisconsin certificate program
  • California State University Long Beach Professional Writing Certificate Program
  • Oregon State University Online Technical Writing Certificate
  • UC Berkeley Technical Communication sequence program
  • University of Washington Certificate In Professional Technical Writing

Finding work

Once you have the skills you need, first identify which area of technical writing you want to work in. Ideally, this should be an area you enjoy.

Next, find an internship, an entry level technical writing or editing job, or a volunteer position. LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster are good job sites.

Another option is to become a freelancer so you can determine your own hours, salary, and which projects you want to take. Upwork and Flexjobs are good online job sites for freelancers. Technical writers on Upwork generally charge $25 to $150 per hour, depending on their expertise and specialty area.

The usual catch-22

You must have a portfolio of writing samples that you can show to potential employers. But how do you get writing samples — and jobs — when you don’t have any experience yet?

If you get an entry-level job or internship, you can get your first writing samples there. If you can’t find an entry-level job or internship, be willing to do a little volunteer work. Contact a company that needs something documented and offer to do it for free — for a reasonable amount of time, of course.

Good places to contact are app companies or open source software companies. Thanks to the technology boom, there are a lot of new startups that need low-cost or entry-level technical writers who are willing to do some free work.

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Another option is to ask your current company if you can do some technical writing or editing for them.

Finally, use your network. Let people you previously worked with or are now working with know you’re looking for technical writing opportunities.

Pros and cons

Here are the good and bad aspects of technical writing.

Pros

  • You can make a lot of money.
  • You can continue to improve and refine your writing and editing skills.
  • You have the flexibility of being a freelancer, contractor, or permanent employee. If you prefer variety, being a contractor or freelancer is a great way to work at a lot of different companies and areas of business. If you love writing articles, poetry, novels or other things, you can work a contract, and then take a few months off to pursue your favorite forms of writing.
  • The job outlook is great. Employment will grow 7% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average of all other jobs.
  • There are a lot of remote work opportunities. Some companies require technical writers to be onsite, but a large and growing number of companies allow people to work from home, at least most of the time.

Cons

  • Adapting your current writing skills to technical writing can be challenging. A lot of people are great at writing Medium articles, poetry, blogs, and even books, but won’t like technical writing. Most good writers can adapt to technical writing if they’re disciplined and highly-motivated, but others will find it very challenging.
  • It can get stressful. You’ll eventually have to work with difficult people, meet aggressive deadlines, deal with a ton of changes, and work under pressure.
  • The content you write can become very dry and boring. After being a technical writer for 20 years, I almost always get bored with the content very quickly. This is a big challenge for a lot of people.
  • You can get too obsessed with making money and stray away from your bigger dreams.

Final thoughts

We love to write. We’d love to get paid well to write. Right? Technical writing is a great opportunity to write and get paid very well to do it, but only if you can adapt to the challenges of this fast-growing field.

Some people seamlessly make the transition to technical writing, while others struggle. Each of us has different writing and life goals. Like any career, the best way to find out if technical writing is a good fit for you is to see how it aligns with your values and the extent to which it allows you to use your gifts, strengths, and talents to make money and live a fulfilling life.

For some people, technical writing will become their only career. If they’re passionate about it and it aligns closely with their values and who they are, they can thrive in this field.

When I got out of prison, the discrimination I faced was so bad, I was seriously considering selling drugs again. Technical writing literally saved me from going back to prison. Although I’m slowly getting out of it to pursue things I find more rewarding and purposeful, it’s been a great career. I’ve learned a lot, worked with some amazing people, made some great friends, and earned a lot of money.

Technical writing may be a great opportunity for you to have a rewarding career, get paid well, and do something you enjoy.

Extra Information About what’s it like being a technical writer That You May Find Interested

If the information we provide above is not enough, you may find more below here.

Technical Writing Pays a Lot, but is it an Ideal Career for You?

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  • Intro: Technical Writing Pays a Lot, but is it an Ideal Career for You?Technical writing can be a great career if you can adapt to its demandsPhoto by Jeswin Thomas on UnsplashI got out of prison in 1998. I faced a lot of discrimination because of my criminal record and had…
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What Does a Technical Writer Do? A Day in the Life

What Does a Technical Writer Do? A Day in the Life

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A day in the life of a Technical Writer | CK Group

A day in the life of a Technical Writer | CK Group

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Technical Writers : Occupational Outlook Handbook

Technical Writers : Occupational Outlook Handbook

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What Does a Technical Writer Do?

What Does a Technical Writer Do?

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Frequently Asked Questions About what’s it like being a technical writer

If you have questions that need to be answered about the topic what’s it like being a technical writer, then this section may help you solve it.

Do technical writers have rewarding careers?

Many people outside of the profession may be superficially familiar with the term, but their understanding of the profession may be limited or inaccurate. Technical writing (or technical communication) is a very rewarding career both in terms of job satisfaction and monetary reward.

Is it stressful to work as a technical writer?

The content you write can become very dry and boring after working as a technical writer for 20 years; you’ll eventually have to deal with challenging people, meet aggressive deadlines, deal with a ton of changes, and work under pressure.

Is technical writing challenging?

Yes, technical writing can be very difficult, but if the position fits your interests and strengths, it will be much simpler for you to complete. For a technical writer with a solid foundation of expertise in the project at hand and a good set of writing and communication skills, technical writing may be simple.

Are technical writers well compensated?

According to Glassdoor salary estimates, the pay range for technical writers in the US is between $0 and $56,000. The national average salary for a technical writer has increased from $3,800 in 2013 to $3,700 in 2022, according to salary data from Zippia.

Technical writers: Can they earn $100,000?

Yes, you can earn 00,000 per year as a technical writer. Since the highest-paying technical writer positions typically bring in at least 03,000 annually, your chances of making over 00k as a technical writer are actually quite good.

Are there few technical writers?

Technical writers are uncommon hybrids with an uncommon blend of skills.

What drawbacks can technical writing have?

Technical copywriters typically are paid on salary, so there is little opportunity for them to earn more money at work without an official raise. Technical writers typically work full-time for one company, so they are not afforded the freedom and lifestyle flexibility enjoyed by freelance writers.

Do technical writers put in a lot of overtime?

An entry-level technical writer needs to put in more than the typical eight hours of work per day because they may have to juggle their technical training and daily tasks at first. Typically, a technical writing job requires a minimum of forty hours of work per week.

Technical writers satisfied?

The fact that the vast majority of technical writers enjoy their workplace is probably a factor in the profession’s higher overall satisfaction.

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