English majors have long been the bane of many parents, but that’s changed in recent years. Getting a degree in English or writing is now opening doors to potentially very lucrative careers. Have you ever wondered who wrote all of those technical manuals that complement software, or who’s behind large non-profits scoring multi-million dollar grants? It’s a technical writing, and increasingly one with a degree in writing or English instead of (or in addition to) a professional level.
Professional writers are a big part of business from creating SEO-rich web content to blogging and creating a friendly face for previously stiff, tech-driven companies. The truth is that every company can benefit from a technical writer — from rehab centers to florists and every industry in-between. The goal for nearly every business is to get on the first page of Google searches, connect (virtually) with customers, and have a stellar social media presence.
Technical writers are increasingly asked to be not “just” writers who are also experts in a professional industry, which is like finding a unicorn in itself, but they’re also ideally well-versed in all aspects of online business management. They should have a knowledge of call center analytics if their client is a major call center and know how to whip up a meta tag that catches the eye.
How Do You Become a Technical Writer?
There are a few undergraduate and graduate programs focused on technical writing, but many writers have related degrees (such as literature). However, just like any other writing niche, many professional writers are often naturally good at what they do. They have a knack for turning tech speak into the real talk, and have the basic skills like grammar and citations in check.
While a degree can certainly give you a leg up, it’s often your writing samples and experience that can help you land that dream job or client. If you can prove that you’re an experienced technical writer and the hiring manger likes your samples, you’re golden. Combine experience and talent with a strong drive and professional attitude, and you will be set.
What Kind of Jobs Are There?
Technical writers often go one of two ways. There are many permanent, full-time positions for professional writers. These positions are often at tech companies and may require you to have experience in some programming languages, software, or with certain technologies. Some companies even require technical writers to have a degree in engineering, while others only require experience working with engineers.
Another option is the contract, freelance, and small business route. Many technical writing needs are finite, such as creating a manual for a new product. There are many very successful freelance writers or those who own a small writing company. This can be a very lucrative path, but requires endless determination and constantly looking for more projects.
Just like any other career, technical writers have to start somewhere. This might be serving as a junior copywriter, or as an editor’s assistant early in your career. Gaining experience in a wide range of things from blogs to SEO analysis sweetens your resume and opens new doors. It’s wise to accept a project for less than you’d like if it means you’ll be learning new tools.
There’s no magic number of years before you’ll be a technical writing expert. Different writers learn at different paces. If you’re in college or considering going back, think about what type of final work environment you’d like. A writer in a huge tech corporation leads a very different life in terms of time tracking, lifestyle, and pay from a freelancer, and that will help direct your academic goals.