Are You Cut Out to be a Technical Writer?
The best explanation I ever saw for technical writing is that it “puts technical stuff into language anyone can understand”. Almost everyone has had the experience, at some time or another, of reading an instruction manual or some other document that was virtually impossible to understand (or ended up with your desk, or your kids’ play house, being put together backwards and upside down). These are usually examples of failed technical writing.
A technical writer basically has to be able to bridge the gap between the technical side of things and the layman’s understanding. This means that you have to have a technical-enough mind to understand what you are writing about, yet enough skill with language that you can make your next-door neighbor understand it, too.
The best thing to do, if you are thinking about becoming a technical writer, is to take some technical writing courses. Technical writing is different than other types of writing, so a degree in, say, English or journalism won’t help you to understand the finer points of the craft. Taking courses will help you understand what exactly technical writing entails, such as how to know and write for your audience.
Next, look for an entry-level job or one that isn’t looking for as much experience as a writer. If you have a background in a technical subject, but not as a writer, you can often use this work experience together with your technical writing classes in order to help you get into a job. Once you have a year or two of experience as a tech writer under your belt, you will find it much easier to find higher-paying jobs or even go into business as a contractor.
Technical writers usually are paid a pretty good salary, especially compared to some other writing jobs, such as journalism. Although it may take a little extra work to get into a career as a tech writer, most likely you will find it worth the effort in the long run.