Technical writers take complicated details and put them into simple terms a layman can understand. Instruction manuals, assembly directions, documentation for computer programs and other materials that must relate technical terms in ways that the average person can understand are all examples of work done by technical writers.
Popular degrees in technical writing
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, the vast majority of employers require technical writers to hold a bachelor's degree. Popular degrees for technical writers include journalism, communications, English and the like. Some positions might require a bachelor's degree in addition to extensive experience in a certain field; for instance, a medical writer should have a strong grasp of medical terminology and issues.
According to Carnegie Mellon University, which offers one of the oldest technical writing degree programs in the nation, the rapid rise of technology in all industry sectors is changing the field, resulting in a need for technical writers who are not only skilled in technical communication but also knowledgeable about online media, web design, and information management and support systems.
In addition to basic writing and communications coursework, students may specialize their technical writing degree by focusing on science, IT, medicine or other niche fields in which they hope to work.
Why online degrees in technical writing are popular
At any level, online liberal-arts degrees in technical writing are an option for those who prefer something other than the traditional classroom experience. Because technical writing requires a strong grasp of all forms of media and plenty of computer knowledge, earning a degree online might give students an edge with employers who want to see practical, real-world computer experience on a resume.
Online degrees in technical writing also offer flexibility for working professionals, which can be a bonus for anyone looking to move into technical writing as a new career. According to the BLS, technical writers are expected to see growth of 18 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is significantly faster than the 8 percent projected for all authors, writers and editors. Online degrees can help professional writers or tech-savvy workers gain the complementary skills to move into this growing industry.
What to expect from a career in technical writing
Technical writers are found in almost every industry. According to the BLS, the computer systems design industry employed 18 percent of all technical workers in 2008. Eight percent of technical writers were employed by computer and electronics manufacturers. Software publishers, architectural and engineering firms, and consulting services are other major employers of technical writers.
The BLS reported a mean annual income of $66,240 for technical writers in 2010. Those in the bottom 10 percent made less than $37,160, while those in the top 10 percent made more than $100,910.
According to Salary.com, 66 percent of technical writers hold a bachelor's degree, 20 percent hold a master's degree, and 2 percent hold a doctorate in 2011. Among those with advanced positions, 37 percent hold a master's degree and 4 percent hold a doctorate.
Though some technical writers might choose to pursue a higher degree in a certain field, experience also matters a great deal. Among those in advanced positions, 25 percent have over five years of experience, 29 percent have over ten years of experience, and 41 percent have been in the technical writing business for 15 years or more.