So you want to become a technical writer? We think it’s a highly profitable and in-demand industry for writers. The average median salary for a technical writer was around $70,930 USD per year in 2017, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. Technical writing is also set to grow by 11% from 2016 to 2026. This is due to the obvious rise of scientific, technical, and web-based advancements, but technical writing is so much more than technology.
What is a Technical Writer?
A technical writer creates written content that is designed to communicate about technical or highly specialised topics, in industries ranging from finance to engineering to manufacturing and more. It is also used to describe processes and procedures, from using your iPhone to building a Lego house, for example. The main goal of technical writing is to break down complex information into user-friendly language. Technical writing can come in the form of white papers, proposals, instruction manuals, standard operating procedures (SOPs), product demonstrations, and more.
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All writers should learn how to research, prepare and map out your document, and write in plain, simple language. As a technical writer, you will want to implement a professional tone–direct and neutral–and be clear and concise. The goal is to make a complicated, technical, or dry issue understandable and accessible to the average reader. We suggest even using writing templates, of which there are many, to guide you. Also, as always you should remember to review and edit your work when it’s completed.
Here are five tips every writer should know to become a technical writer:
Find your niche
Since just about every industry utilises technical writing in one form or another, most successful technical writers will focus on a niche and become an expert–a voice of authority–in that field. For example, computer technology is advancing at such a rapid rate that, as a smart writer, you would choose one aspect, say machine learning, and learn everything you can about it. The same is true in medicine: if you’re interested in advancements in human prosthetics, you will not be able to adequately develop the voice of authority when speaking about cures for the common cold.
The point is to keep learning and networking with others in your field of interest to become a subject matter expert. Build your credibility as a writer by networking, keeping current with industry news, and consulting other experts for advice and feedback.
Read relevant articles and blogs
As a writer, your strength may be in your writing skills. However, when doing technical writing, it is important that you keep up with developments in your niche and the best way to do that is to read, read, and read some more. Online articles and blogs are abundant and you’ll likely find several sites that feature content within your niche. Since your aim is to write from a place of “authority,” you need to stay abreast of all the latest developments and industry news. For example, writers in the technology field should consider subscribing to websites such as Techcrunch, (also Tech Collective) and Crunchbase for technology and startup news.
Furthermore, as an avid connoisseur of content, you can observe and evaluate the writing style and content of other writers to help improve your skills.
Know your target audience
Most of all, knowing who your target audience is key to writing well. You will want to know to whom, exactly, you are writing and ensure that you are answering their needs.
Ask yourself these questions to determine your target audience:
- What is the audience’s demographic? Education? Reading Level? Background knowledge?
- What information does your audience need to know? How can you add value?
- If you are writing about a product or a service, are you writing for a business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) audience?
And this is just a beginning. Once you define your niche, you will be able to expand on this list to really focus in on your audience.
Once you have a good understanding of just what your audience’s needs are, you can then style and structure your content for them. Most technical writing is in the first-person perspective, much like a teacher teaching a student. This makes it easy to keep the writing style tight and informative. The information should always be helpful and clearly written with your audience in mind.
Use reliable sources and credit them
To position yourself as the authority in your niche, you should include in-depth research, statistics, and examples wherever possible in your content. The research will substantiate your writing and demonstrate that your content is highly accurate and based on facts. We recommend that you use reliable sources like industry trade publications, reports, and news to support your content. Crediting your sources will also help build trust with your reader and uphold your reputation as the expert in your industry.
Tip: Links to sources will also help rankings in Google search engines.
Optimise your content with SEO
If your content is meant to be posted on the internet (and what isn’t these days?), you’ll need a firm understanding of SEO and how to use it to your advantage. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a way of enhancing the reach of your content by ranking in ‘relevancy’ on search engine result pages (SERPs). As a technical writer, you should become familiar with tools, like Google Trends, to help you identify and compare SEO keywords and learn where and how to use keywords in your content for optimum exposure. This will help brand you as an authority and help you earn backlinks to your website–the ultimate endorsement for any writer.
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Technical writers bridge the gap between specialised industry knowledge and business communications in companies. Being able to convey technical information in a clear and concise manner is no easy feat, and fast becoming a valuable skill for most modern-day businesses. While there are no formal qualifications to become a technical writer, we believe that having excellent writing skills, a love of learning, and continued writing practise can help you go far in this field.
About the author
Terng Shing is the Founder and CEO of SYNC PR, a PR and content marketing startup that uses technology to reduce time wasting and administrative tasks in delivering results. Based in Singapore, Terng Shing has been focused on helping startups and SMEs build their brand story through media and content.
His experience includes a decade of work in PR and communications agencies, managing top-tier fortune 500 companies to the leading startups in Southeast Asia. Terng Shing has a passion for innovative communications and is convinced that PR is the next great industry to see positive disruption.