How to become a technical writer

Everybody uses technology in one way or another but not everybody knows how to use it properly. There are so many tech gadgets available that it’s hard to wrap your head around all their uses. Manuals don’t help all that much either as the terms used might be incomprehensible to the layman. Understanding the use of technology is extremely important in our use of it, and technical writers are there to communicate that use. 

Technical writers are professional writers that communicate complex technical information to the end-users who need to understand it, usually in the form of journal articles, instruction manuals, how-to guides and other supporting documents. Extensive knowledge of technical concepts and good writing skills is essential to becoming a competent technical writer. 

Technical writing is a cross between the tech industry and the writing world. If you want to have a taste of both worlds then technical is the right career path for you. If you are interested in becoming a technical writer then you’re in the right place, as this guide will walk you through the steps to become a successful technical writer. 

Steps to become a technical writer

1. Understand the role of a technical writer

Becoming a technical writer is not a walk in the park, there may be certain difficulties and setbacks along the way that may be enough to discourage you. Even if you have a great passion for technical writing, it is easy to get shaken up when things get hard and you begin to question your choices.

But if you have a clear understanding of what being a technical writer entails, you can better prepare yourself for whatever hardship may come along the way. 

The responsibility of a technical writer includes creating user-friendly and informative content, such as manuals, guides, documentation, and online help resources.

The responsibilities of a technical writer are not limited to the above, as they may perform other related functions as needed depending on their job description. 

Familiarize yourself with the job description of a technical writer, and then sit back and decide if it is something you can handle. If it is still something you want to do, then start preparing for the next steps. 

2. Earn a bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree is not a prerequisite to becoming a technical writer but it will help you gain important knowledge of the field and improve your job prospects. Relevant fields include journalism, scientific writing, technical writing and related fields.

Employers typically prefer employees with the right qualifications, so it may be worth it to get a bachelor’s degree. 

3. Develop your writing skills

To become a technical writer, it is a must for you to have great writing skills. You don’t want to be making silly mistakes while writing, as it will hurt your professionalism. Your grammar, punctuation and vocabulary must be on point.

Your explanatory and descriptive skills also need to be exceptional, and you must have the ability to simplify and succinctly relay complex information.

There are several ways you could improve your writing skills, including getting a bachelor’s degree in writing, taking writing courses and regular practice.

4. Gain technical knowledge

You must understand what you are writing to be able to explain it in simpler terms so you must be well-versed in technical knowledge to become a technical writer. You can decide to earn a bachelor’s degree in technical writing to gain this knowledge.

However, if you do not want to, you can research other ways. For example, you can reach out to professionals to learn more about the topic you’re interested in or attend boot camps to gain a better understanding. 

You should also try to learn some coding languages to better familiarise yourself with technical languages. You do not need to be an expert but it will give you an insight into the technical world. 

5. Choose your niche

From software and IT to healthcare and engineering, technical writing covers a wide range of industries and domains. Almost every industry uses technology one way or another, so technical writing is quite broad, making it possible to choose an area or niche that you can focus on.

Identify the niche that interests you the most and focus your development on that niche. Concentrating on building your knowledge and specializing in a particular field will enhance your expertise and can make you more valuable to potential employers.

6. Gain technical writing certification

Although not compulsory, getting a certification will help you stand out and be more valuable to employers. This shows that you have extensive knowledge of the field and are already an expert.

There are various technical writing courses online, so choose the one that best suits your needs and apply, then get a professional certificate when you are done. Depending on the country you are in, you can register for professional exams and get certified once you pass. 

7. Acquire the right tools

There are certain tools and software that can make your work much easier by helping you to create and manage your content. They include documentation platforms like Tettra; version control systems like Git, Monotone and Perforce; content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla, Wix, Ghost, etc; and graphics editing tools. 

8. Build a portfolio

Build a strong portfolio that will help display your writing skills and expertise to prospective employers. You can reach out to friends and family and take on small projects for them that you can add to your portfolio.

Consider volunteering for non-profit organizations, or getting an internship or apprenticeship to gain practical experience that you can add to your portfolio.

9. Network and collaborate

Never downplay the importance of connections in the professional world. Knowing the right people and having an extensive network play a significant role in finding opportunities as a technical writer.

Never pass up the opportunity to mingle with other professionals in your field as you may stumble upon some great mentorship and invaluable opportunities. 

10. Apply for technical writing positions

Your journey as a professional technical writer does not start until you get a job. Make good use of your networks to find a reputable technical writing job. Your great skills and strong portfolio will ensure that no job is out of your reach.

Tailor your resume to the job description and make sure to ace the interview. Be prepared for anything, as some employers may require you to pass writing tests or sample assignments as part of the interview process.

11. Embrace feedback

It’s great to think highly of your skills as it will help you build the confidence you need to go forward. However, you can never be an accurate judge of your skills. Whether it is family members, friends, employers, coworkers or colleagues, always be open to receiving feedback on your writing and use it as an opportunity to enhance your skills. Constructive criticism can help you refine your work and become a better technical writer.

Conclusion

If you are someone with a great interest in technology, but your artistic streak is too strong for you to fully go into the tech world, then technical writing may be the best career. It has a little bit of both worlds, so it makes it possible for you to pursue your passion for writing and explore your interest in technology at the same time. 

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Habibat Musa

Habibat Musa

Habibat Musa is a content writer with MakeMoney.ng. She writes predominantly on topics related to education, technology and business. She is an English language major.

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