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Navigating the Path to a Technical Writing Career

by Melissa Savage

Have you ever considered producing hardware or software documentation for a university, hospital, or magazine? If you have, a career in Technical Writing could be your calling. Getting started or even knowing what to look for may be a very difficult task. To start, we must first define what a technical writer does. A technical writer, as stated on www.course.com/careers/glossary/itjobs.cfm, "is responsible for authoring hardware and software documentation either for an organization's internal computer systems or for third-party vendors. Chief among a technical writer's responsibilities is producing user documentation files, sometimes called "Help" files, which ship with many popular end-user applications"(2004). Most technical writers "demonstrate solid understanding of technology, good writing and thinking skills, and proficiency with authoring tools like FrameMaker and RoboHelp"(Bommarito 2003). Technical communication will provide an individual with many personal and career opportunities.

How does a person interested in career in technical writing get started?

Many individuals start by getting a degree in English, journalism, or technical communication. There are other majors a person could obtain at the college level and still acquire a career in technical writing. On Employment Review Online , a website providing vital links to better career choices, Kara Kitts writes, "The career path for a technical writer may follow this track:

  1. associate technical writer
  2. technical writer
  3. senior technical writer
  4. publications analysts
  5. publications department supervisor
  6. training and publications department manager
  7. consultant/contractor
  8. owner of a publications shop"(2003).

This path could occur at any point of a person's career. Of course, these kinds of career paths are not set in stone. It is basically up to the individual about what area of technical communication he/she wants to pursue.

Where do technical writers work?

The variety of working conditions that exist for technical writers today are perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of this career. Some writers and editors work in comfortable and quiet offices, where as others work in noise-filled rooms where the sound of computers and keyboards are background music. You can pick the environment that best fits your personality. A typical work week runs from 35 to 40 hours. However, a little overtime may be required to meet program and production deadlines.

When you get the job as a technical writer, how much does it pay?

So let's be honest, we all want a career that is going to pay the bills. Technical writing can do just that. Statistics taken from the OOH, which is the Occupational Outlook Handbook, produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, states that entry level jobs usually start around the $30,000 range. It should be noted that the OOH does take salary data from metropolitan areas so salary ranges may differ in certain areas. The OOH also states that a mid- range salary for an entry level technical communication profession is around $35,000. Of course, the more you move up in the profession the higher your salary will become. Experienced writers in the computer industry may make around $75,000. But the median range of pay for technical writers in all fields is $47,500 (2002-03). Of course like most writing jobs, there is some free lance work available.

A career as a technical writer is a prosperous and rewarding enterprise. It is a career that lets you work in an environment that is most comfortable for you and gives you endless possibilities. If considering a career in technical communication, a secure future will be in your hands.


Sources

Bommarito, Julie. 2003. Changing Careers in Technical Communication. STC Annual Conference.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. 2003. Writers and Editors. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-03 ed. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos089.htm (visited February 25, 2004).

Kitts, Kara. 2001. Technical communication provides vital link. Employment Review Online, March. http://www.employmentreview.com/2001-03/features/CNfeat04.asp (visited February 25, 2004.)

Solomon, Stephen. IT Jobs. http://www.course.com/careers/glossary/itjobs.cfm (visited February 25, 2004).
This is a website inclined to provide definitions for better understanding.