So You Want to be a Tech Writer

Person working on a tech writing project

Technical writing is the art of using words to communicate information about technology and engineering-related subjects. That’s a vast umbrella to worth and thrive under! Not everyone who does this kind of writing sees themselves as technical writers, even though they are. Engineers who document code or blueprints, UX designers who put together manuals, and trainers who create material for tech and engineering courses are all filling roles as technical writers.

But what if you want more? What if you want to do this for a living with “Technical Writer” as your title (or at least the biggest part of your job description)? Well, then, you have options.

Training and Course Material

For those interested in pursuing a career in technical writing, various training and development opportunities are available. Many universities offer technical writing programs, and there are numerous online resources and courses available as well. For example, the University of Washington has a “Certificate in Technical Writing.” UC Berkeley Extension Service has a “Writing, Editing and Technical Communication” program. A quick web search will find opportunities that may be more local to you, though many of these programs are available online.

Diving In to Tech Writing

Another option is to dive right in. Start by finding reading material in the technical field you’re interested in and the format you want to explore. Interested in how technical manuals are written? Then download a few and read them, taking notes on what you think works and what doesn’t in the material. Or perhaps you’re more interested in a journalistic writing style for tech magazines and newspaper columns. Again, find as many examples as possible to read and consider what works in that style.

Next step: start writing. Have you seen the overwhelmingly cute video of the man teaching his son to write the exact instructions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? That’s a fantastic game to learn the principles required for writing manuals! You can also start writing and pitching material to your favorite magazines; even if it isn’t published, the experience is good for you.

What about AI?

With generative AI like ChatGPT hitting the headlines, one can quite sensibly ask whether AI will replace tech writers. The answer is: it depends. Some more basic instructional styles (like exact instructions) might be farmed out to an AI content generator. However, content that requires research, discernment, and an engaging style is still solidly in the hands of humans. Internet standards development, technical white papers, reviews, and opinion pieces require a human to develop the content.

Wrap Up

Tech writing is an absolutely necessary skill set in today’s digitally-focused world. Even if tech writing isn’t your focus, having this skill on your resumé is a huge differentiator in today’s market. Developers and product managers who are also trained to be tech writers are worth their weight in platinum. Freelancers can specialize as tech writers and find themselves with more work than they know what to do with. As a tech writer, I’m biased, but I am passionate that this skill set would benefit everyone.

If you know of others that might enjoy being part of a community designed to support tech writers, please send them here to The Writer’s Comfort Zone!

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