Technical Communication Introduction


Frequently Asked Questions

This page answers the most common questions people have about technical communication. This is by no means a comprehensive list of questions or answers, but it offers the basic information you need to get started in the industry. If you have additional questions, check out some of the technical communication Web sites on the Links page.

What is technical writing? Is there a difference between that and technical communicating? What kinds of skills do I need?
What kind of education do I need? Once I have the education, where do I look for a job?
What will I need to get a job?

What are employers looking for?

What kinds of projects will I be working on? What kinds of working conditions can I expect?
What's the difference between freelancing and working directly  for a company? Is this a secure profession?

What is technical writing? Is there a difference between that and technical communicating?

Technical writing falls under the broader category of technical communication, which encompasses technical writing, editing, and design. Technical communicators organize, interpret, write, and edit scientific and technical material, gathering information of a technical nature and presenting it to those who need it. Many different professionals fall under the broad category of "technical communicator." Technical Writer is the most commonly used job title for this occupation. Other titles include:

  • Communication Specialist
  • Documentation Specialist
  • Health Writer
  • Information Designer
  • Information Developer
  • Medical Writer
  • Policy and Procedure Writer
  • Proposal Writer
  • Publications Specialist
  • Science Writer
  • Technical Editor
  • Web Editor

Technical writers compose communication from product developers for users of the products. Users include consumers as well as scientists, engineers, plant executives, line workers, and production managers.


What kinds of skills do I need?


What kind of education do I need?

Many employers prefer applicants with a four-year college degree in communications, engineering, or journalism, or those possessing a degree or certificate in technical writing. A college degree is recommended for people interested in careers in technical communication, although a major in technical communication is not necessary. Individuals interested in becoming technical writers should take courses in

  • communication

  • English

  • journalism

  • chemistry

  • computer-related subjects

  • graphic arts

  • mathematics

  • mechanical drawing

  • physics


A 2002 survey of Society for Technical Communication members showed the seven academic backgrounds most common among technical communicators:

English 32%
Technical Communication 22%
Business Administration 10%
Computer Science 9%
Science 9%
Engineering 8%
Journalism 7%
Other 28%

Note: The question was presented as multiple-choice and some respondents checked off more than one area of study, so the percentages listed add up to more than 100 percent.


Once I have the education, where do I look for a job?



What will I need to get a job?

Technical writers should prepare a portfolio of technical writing samples that may include projects completed as a student or a volunteer as well as professional work. This portfolio is over and above the normal résumé or curriculum vitae that a technical writer must have, and will show any prospective employer the quality of work that you have produced in previous assignments. This work can include Web pages you've designed, technical manuals you've edited, or brochures you've designed, among others.


What are employers looking for?

Only a few years ago, computer literacy was considered merely an asset whereas today it is a requirement, and some technical writers may be required to know and be able to read programming languages. Applicants must have good computer skills and may need a working knowledge of specific industry operations and procedures. Applicants should also have good communication skills and be able to convey scientific and technical information clearly and accurately. Increasingly, companies require technical writers to be knowledgeable about computer graphics and desktop publishing, including multimedia production. Some employers will only hire experienced writers who specialize in one field of technology. Some employers require a strong background of technical knowledge and experience, combined with writing skills. Employers also select trainees from among technicians who have backgrounds in science, military equipment, and communications.


What kinds of projects will I be working on?

Writers must write in a concise and easy-to-read manner for consumer publications or in highly specialized language for experts. With the increased use of desktop publishing, technical writers are increasingly responsible for the publication process including graphics, layout, and document design.

Technical communicators work in every medium, including print, illustrations, video, multimedia, online help systems, Web sites, and training materials. They work in almost every industry, including:

Within their chosen industry, many technical writers will specialize further. For example, technical writers in the computer industry might specialize in software documentation, tutorials, or user manuals.

Technical writers design and develop a broad range of information and produce a variety of communication products. User's guides, reference manuals, policies and procedure guide, quick references, online help, online wizards, guided tours, and online cue cards explain how to use products, services, and policies. Web sites provide support and documentation. Technical reports, articles, and books exchange "basic" scientific information. Proposals, catalogs, brochures, videotapes, audio tapes, and demonstrations market products and services. Workbooks, tutorials, quick references, and online coaches train users. Newsletters, magazines, and e-zines have a combination of purposes.


What kinds of working conditions can I expect?


What's the difference between freelancing and working directly for a company?

About one fourth of technical writers are independent freelancers and consultants. Choosing to work as a freelance technical writer can be both liberating and frustrating. You can choose when you want to work, and you have a wider variety of experience available to you than the technical writer that works for a single company. However, finding freelance work requires self-discipline and motivation. Jobs can sometimes be hard to come by. Self-employed technical writers must carefully estimate the number of hours needed to complete a project under contract. Technical writers who work under contract or freelance may work from their home or at the employer's site. Self-employed technical writers must pay for their own insurance.


Is this a secure profession?

Technical writing has become an increasingly essential occupation in business and government, and jobs can be found in almost any industry sector because of the need for users' guides, instruction manuals, and training manuals. Demand for technical writers is expected to grow because of the need to communicate new scientific and technical information to others.

The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupation Outlook Handbook (2004-5 edition) predicts that over the next several years, among the different areas of writing, the most job opportunities will be for technical writers and writers with specialized training. It goes on to say that demand for technical writers and writers with expertise in specialty areas, such as law, medicine, or economics, is expected to increase because of the continuing expansion of scientific and technical information and the need to communicate it to others. The full entry can be found at the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.




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Technical Communication Introduction ©2006 Damien Wilker, Wright State University