Become a technical writer

Aeryn Kauffman, Columnist

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Technical writer. If that profession sounds too boring for you, you could also be called content developer, requirements analyst, documentation specialist or the mysterious, yet impressive, information architect. These are all titles of technical writers, and the profession is booming.

After perusing the 40 pages of job openings on LinkedIn, 8,358 results on Indeed (just from typing technical writing, and documentation specialist produced 64,098 job results) and a whopping 661,966 job postings on ZipRecruiter, it’s safe to say technical writing is in high demand. And all it takes is an English degree.

Teagan Kimbro

Technical writing is still not a well-known profession, despite the need for it. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics summarizes the profession: 

“Technical writers prepare instruction manuals, how-to guides, journal 

articles, and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily.”

If it sounds vague, that’s because it is. Technical writing is that and so much more. I usually tell people this: you buy a new piece of furniture, but you have to put it together using the instructions. Someone wrote those instructions: a technical writer.

Technical writers are key in the technology industry, especially when it comes to end users. End users are those who use the final product. For instance, the Twitter terms and conditions? Duolingo Spanish lessons? You guessed it; a technical writer wrote those. Technical writers make apps, websites and devices easier to use, and their work can mean the difference between Facebook and MySpace.

Technical writers work alongside software developers and web designers to make superior user experience. If an app or website interface is intuitive and easy to use, people download it more, leading to more revenue for the creators. Technical writers translate 

complex jargon into simple, direct language any adult can understand. This is why technical writers are so valuable; they are the connection between the experts and the users.

A prime example of successful technical writing is the wildly popular “For Dummies” book series. Everyone has a copy at home, it seems. The series’ popularity coincided with the tech boom; “Windows 95 for Dummies” and “DOS for Dummies” are their best-selling books of all time, according to a Slate article. “DOS” author Dan Gookin said, “This level of user… [wants] to get the answer to the question, close the book, and move on with their life.”

And the need for technical writers is only getting stronger. According to O*NET Online, the holy grail of job 

information sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, technical writers have a median salary of $71,850 while journalists have a median salary of $41,260. One of my professors with technical writing experience said she was making six figures.

Technical writing positions have a projected ten-year growth of 7-10% and journalist positions are expected to decline by 2%. As a technical writer, you will always have a job, and you will always live comfortably.

For summer 2020, I have been offered four internship positions and counting. Paid internships in the $17-18 an hour range. Just search “journalist internship” on Indeed and try to find one that pays higher than minimum wage. I’ll wait.

To sweeten the deal even more, many technical writing positions are remote. You don’t have to “work your way up the ladder” to be rewarded with a remote position; many remote technical writers have only a few years of experience.

Technical writers don’t get stuck in the same position, either. Technical writing serves as a springboard into IT management, nonprofit work, web design, medical writing, grant writing, proposal writing and more. According to the reference book “Solving Problems in Technical Communication,” technical writers often learn skills in document design, web design, project management, multimedia design, content management, editing, single-source publishing and computer programming. And CWU offers courses in these subjects.

CWU students should take advantage of the Professional & Creative Writing (PCW) specialization of the English major to become a technical writer. My major advisor, Professor Cynthia Pengilly, said most PCW students focus on creative writing. The job prospects are scarce for them. It is incredibly hard to make a living as an author, poet or playwright, though almost every English major I know (including myself) dreams of doing so.

Instead, creative writers are either delegated to educational professions or starving artists. Some eventually make their way to technical writing. Except instead of using pertinent information they could have learned in one of CWU’s professional writing courses, they must self-study to compete with professional and technical writers who received formal training.

CWU students can receive this formal training in the dozens of professional writing courses offered by the English Department. Some examples offered each year are Technical Writing, Business Writing, Advanced Technical Writing, Rhetoric for Professional Writers and more, including a Professional Writing Certificate.

The Information Technology/Administrative Management (ITAM) and Computer Science Departments offer courses in project management, web design, front and back-end software 

development languages like Java and Javascript, technical writing in computer science and IT management.

The tools are here for English majors to receive a robust, technology-focused education that will propel us forward in our careers.

Don’t get stuck being a starving artist, English majors. Explore technical writing, get paid and live comfortably.