How to become a technical writer?

Different question marks symbolizing questions related to the career of a technical writer

If you ask yourself the question “Can I become a technical writer?“, this article is a good place to find your answer. I’ll share with you some of my experience of how I started my technical writing career. We will also take a look at what qualifications you might need so that you can answer for yourself whether this career path is right for you.

How did I become a technical writer? 

To be honest, it was a simple spark of luck. I hadn’t even known that such a profession existed until I came across a job offer posted by my current company. I was looking for a job and didn’t have a clear idea of what I could do. At that time I was a performance specialist in a digital marketing agency: I was responsible for Facebook and Google campaigns as well as web analytics.

When I saw this job offer, I thought “This offer seems to be created for me”. I didn’t meet all requirements, but I managed to complete the recruitment procedure successfully. I sometimes laugh that I’ve always tried to enter the IT industry through the back door. I finally managed to do it when I became a tech writer.

Can you become a technical writer if you are a copywriter?

It’s a tough question. Copywriters need to have extensive knowledge on many subjects – very often on subjects that they have almost no interest in. When I worked in marketing, I could always see male copywriters struggling to write Facebook posts about cosmetics. Funny thing is that they always managed to do it and it was always a really good piece of work! Is it the same with tech writing? 

You have to remember that technical writing involves a hands-on experience with technology. The copywriters in my previous company didn’t need to test those cosmetics before writing the text. Here the situation is quite the opposite – in most cases, it is indispensable to test the functionality you write about. I think that’s the biggest difference between copywriters and tech writers. 

What is also related to this difference is that tech writers must simply like the topic they write about, that is software. There is no other way because otherwise, they would go crazy dealing all the time with the application(s) that they hate.

Moreover, it’s sometimes impossible to write the whole instruction at once while I bet that copywriters can often write a text without breaks. What I mean by “breaks” is that the work is often broken into pieces when you have to check something, test something, try a different scenario, google something, ask developers something, or even create a bug ticket.

Do you need to finish language studies to become a technical writer? 

Good news – no, you don’t. I haven’t even seen many job offers where they put language studies in the requirements. It does happen sometimes, but I would recommend ignoring it. If you want to become a technical writer, you have to be able to write in a clear, concise, and correct way. You don’t need language studies for that. 

Quite on the contrary: during my language studies, I was often encouraged to use complicated vocabulary and sentence structures. That is something you should definitely avoid in technical writing. Possibly, I wouldn’t have been able to become a tech writer right after acquiring my master’s degree. Five years of other work experience healed me from writing in a complicated way. It happened because in an international work environment the most important thing is to be understood, which is also the point of good tech writing. 

Do you need to finish technical studies?

This requirement sometimes appears in job offers. The good news is that they usually add the magical phrase “or related”. This phrase “or related” can cover many different studies so don’t be discouraged and apply.

The truth is that it’s possible to think of many studies or job experience as “technical” if you can provide some examples. When I applied for the technical writer position, I recalled the task which was part of my daily work as a process specialist at Nordea: writing handbooks. Handbooks contained the documentation of banking processes. They usually described step-by-step how to use many banking applications. They weren’t that different from software user manuals.

Do you WANT to become a tech writer?

To sum up, the real question is whether you want to become a tech writer. If you want something, you can always learn or improve your skills to achieve your goals.

For a good start, however, it would be great if:

  • You are interested in technology.
  • You like to try out new software.
  • You can explain complicated things in a simple way.
  • You have good command of English.

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