How to Get Into Technical Writing With a Certificate

Technical writing is a highly sought-after skill in the professional world and the demand for certified writers is expected to increase over the next decade.
Technical writing is a highly rewarding career in terms of both job satisfaction and monetary compensation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, technical writer employment will increase by 12% over the next ten years. In this guide, we will take you through what technical writing is, how to become a technical writer and why it is a good career option.
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The ever-increasing need for companies to have properly documented policies and procedures is driving the demand for technical writers. This is especially important for companies that rely heavily on software, electronics, and other technology which require a lot of information sharing for internal and external use.

Not only do technical writers earn more than journalists or editors, but their services are in higher demand and are predicted to be so until 2030. Furthermore, you do not need to be a computer whiz to do this job—there are many different types of technical writing, such as writing a user manual for a smart TV, writing financial reports for stakeholders, or even simply developing a how-to guide to assembling a piece of modular furniture. 

Technical writers work in a variety of industries including computer technology, medicine, manufacturing, business, insurance, finance, and many other fields. This vast application of their skills in any industry makes getting jobs easier.

For individuals considering technical writing as a career, or working professionals considering it as a viable career change, this guide to technical writing will cover all the important questions you may have. 

In this guide, we will specifically focus on what it entails to become a technical writer and how to increase your employment opportunities and pay scale with even a simple certification.

Looking to get certified as a technical writer?

Unmudl has the right course for you through accredited colleges!

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Technical writing certification

A technical writing certificate will go a long way in building your career as a professional technical writer. For those who are amateur writers right now, if you don't consistently improve your skills as a technical writer, the competition will catch up to you sooner or later.

For these reasons, completing a well-recognized technical writing certification course can help you stay on top of your game.

There are also numerous opportunities for technical writers to pursue continuing education/training. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced writer looking to advance your career, there is a technical writing certification program for everyone.

Related: If you feel you are not getting anywhere with your current job and are looking to change your career, here is a great article on how to go about it.

But before we get into the certification let’s take a step back, and quickly go through what a technical writer is, what they do and how much they make.

What is a technical writer exactly?

Technical writing is best described as a discipline that simplifies complex language for the average reader. It entails converting high-level technical and scientific information into relevant, easy-to-read content for non-technical readers.

The writing style covers a wide range of technical and specialized topics, including computer applications, medical procedures, and environmental regulations to name a few. Here are a few examples of technical written documents:

  • Instruction manuals and quick reference guides
  • Technical explanations
  • Procedures for standard operation protocols
  • Documentation for projects and products
  • Documents related to medicine and science
  • Case studies and white papers
  • Policy manuals and training materials

Technical writing is not limited to technical or scientific fields. It can be found in nearly every industry, including law, finance, and marketing.

How is technical writing distinct from business writing?

Technical writing typically addresses topics in science, engineering, and technology, whereas business writing is more creative and focuses on less complex content.

Copywriting, content writing, emails, memos, business letters, and so on are all examples of business writing.

Many people find it hard to differentiate between the two writing styles. Here is a great article that explains the difference between business and technical writing.

What do technical writers do on a day-to-day basis?

The following are typically the day to day responsibilities of technical writers:

  • They work closely with multiple departments to gather required information
  • Independently research, draft, edit, and write new project content
  • Communicate with project developers and experts to gather necessary data
  • Use the information gathered to create project specifications, documentation, and how-to guides
  • Suggest better solutions for complex data compilation
  • Compose the prepared guides and documents in a variety of ways to maximize their utilization and usability

If you enjoy writing, technical writing is a great way to do what you enjoy and earn money while you are at it. But as the world changes, so does the technical writing industry and like any other career, you have to keep your skills updated. 

This means that if you are a technical writer, you must ensure that you are up to date on the terms, regulations, and advancements in the field. There is no doubt that if you do this, you will be able to find, keep and grow in a well-paying technical writing job.

Related: Is technical writing hard in college?

This brings us to ask the most important question… How much do technical writers make?

How much does it pay to be a technical writer?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for technical writers in the United States in 2021 was $78,060.

Salaries vary greatly depending on job location, the field of technical writing, and years of experience. One of the highest-paying areas of technical writing is technology. Among the highest-paid technical writers are those who specialize in software development documentation and medical writing.

Because California has so many technology companies and the cost of living is so high, the average annual 2020 salary in California was $95,170. The average 2020 salary in Florida was $62,640, while it was $59,010 in Logan, Utah.

Annual Mean wage of Technical Writers by State
Annual Mean wage of Technical Writers by State
Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job outlook for technical writers

Technical writers' employment is expected to grow 12 percent between 2022 and 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

On average, 5,500 technical writing job openings are expected each year over the next decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or leave the labor force for other reasons, such as retirement.

Employment of Technical writers by State
Employment of Technical writers by State

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to break into technical writing

If this all sounds good so far, let's take a look at how to get started in technical writing in a few simple steps. The beauty of getting into the field of technical writing is that you can start even with just a high school diploma and a simple certification.

Related: How to get hired from a community college

Start by getting the right credentials for the job

Although it is not compulsory, by obtaining an accredited technical writing certification you can greatly improve your chances of not just finding employment, but getting paid better. 

There are many places you can get a certification in technical writing including the Society for Technical Communication (STC). This organization provides a three-tiered certification program that includes foundation, practitioner, and expert certification levels. 

Furthermore, the American Medical Writers' Association (AMWA) provides continuing education and training programs for medical writers. If you want to work in scientific or medical communication, you should consider becoming certified through AMWA.

We also highly recommend certification programs from either the Tombolo Institute at Bellevue College or PIMA Community College. But more on these options in a bit.

Related: How to apply for community college for your certifications (and why you should)

Constantly improve your technical writing abilities

One way to do this is to read. Read everything, particularly technical documentation. Reading is said to help you write better. Even reading novels or nonfiction as a hobby can help you improve your writing abilities.

Also, regularly get feedback from others (friends, family, coworkers) to see if your writing is clear and easy to understand. This helps you improve your craft.

Create a portfolio of samples

Collect writing samples and offer to take on small projects for friends and acquaintances as you improve your technical writing skills. Create each sample as if it were a professional technical project and save it in your work portfolio. 

Help open source projects by contributing documentation (this will help you build both your writing skills and your understanding of technical topics).

Take on freelance technical writing side gigs to ease into the industry and possibly gain client referrals.

When applying for jobs, you can use these resources to show employers evidence of your work and to demonstrate your technical and written communication skills.

Build up your professional network

Consider joining a technical writing professional association and attending networking events where professionals from the IT, scientific, and medical fields may come together. 

Find opportunities to practice your skills and improve your reputation as a qualified technical writer as you expand your network. Use your network connections and association contacts, for example, to find open-source projects to contribute to as mentioned earlier.

Skills you need to work on as a technical writer

To be a successful technical writer, you must have both technical and soft skills.

Technical skills required

  1. The most important requirement is obviously strong writing abilities. You must be able to write in an orderly and coherent manner. You must be proficient in grammar, punctuation, and editing.
  2. You must be familiar with desktop publishing and authoring software. Knowledge of Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Document 360, and/or similar tools is required. 
  3. You must become familiar with Advanced features like the creation of styles, the use of tracked changes, the creation of a template, the use of hyperlinks, the changing of the document layout, and many other advanced Word features. Another popular desktop publishing tool that some technical writers use is Adobe InDesign.
  4. As you advance you will have to learn more advanced publishing tools, such as unstructured FrameMaker, which is used to create extremely long documents with intricate and robust formatting.
  5. Some companies require technical writers to be familiar with or learn structured authoring tools such as FrameMaker or oxygen. These applications enable writers to create topic-based content and reuse it for various output mediums such as PDF and web help.
  6. Become familiar with Document Management Systems, which store technical documents. SharePoint, Confluence, Google Drive, and Dropbox are a few examples.
  7. It's also a good idea to be familiar with some graphic programs, such as Snag-it, Photoshop, and Visio. Photoshop is a bit more complex, but Snag-it and Visio are used frequently.

Soft skills required

  1. You must have excellent verbal communication and listening skills. You will collaborate with software developers, engineers, and other subject matter experts (SMEs). You must be intellectually curious and analytical, which many writers already are. 
  2. You must have excellent interpersonal skills. You'll be requesting people's time even if they're hesitant to give it to you. You'll need to have the skills to extract the knowledge and information that you need to complete your projects effectively.
  3. You'll need to devote a significant amount of time to researching new concepts and technologies, as well as learning new skills. You must be extremely organized and have excellent time management skills. You'll almost certainly be juggling multiple projects with varying deadlines and milestones.
  4. You must be able to work well under pressure, be patient, and adapt to constantly changing conditions. The thing with working with large extended groups and teams is that when information starts flowing in you will find yourself with both large amounts of information to process quickly and information that is layered and complex. The whole idea of technical writing is to unravel these layers and simplify them, within time and within budget.

Are technical writing certifications worth it?

The easiest way to acquire the above technical and soft skills in one go is to get quality certification from an accredited community college. These courses take between 4 to 7 months only and can arm you with the knowledge and the initial experience to immediately gain employment.

Technical writing can be a difficult process, especially when dealing with financial technology or software as a service. These industries require exceptional writing skills, so obtaining a certification demonstrates that you are qualified for any technical writing task.

A certification demonstrates your ability to present complex information in a structured and easy-to-understand manner. Although certification is not compulsory as mentioned before, it demonstrates to employers that you have the ability, training, and knowledge to synthesize advanced level technical information.

Certification is an excellent way to broaden your knowledge and specialize. Here are two courses that we are recommending to you. Either one will help you jump start your career and get you making money.

Logo of Tombolo Institute at Bellevue College

Tombolo Institute at Bellevue College: Technical Writing Certificate Online

Introduction to the course: The Tombolo Institute at Bellevue College Technical Writing Certificate is the culmination of this online Technical Writing Certificate course. The entire certificate course takes 15 weeks to complete and costs significantly less than taking individual classes separately. 

This competency-based program employs a course instructor and is designed for working professionals with strong written English skills who want to expedite the certificate process. 

The following topics are covered: Technical Writing Principles, The Technical Writer's Role, The procedure for writing, Usability, Techniques for writing, Document Design, Editing Introduction to HTML, XML, and CSS and Strategies for Job Preparation.

Course Fee: $2,040.84Total Price (Excluding Tax)

Duration of course: 7 Hours per Week, 15 Estimated Weeks

Work activities you can put on your resume after the course:

  • Examine the specifics of technical drawings or specifications
  • Collect data on organizational performance
  • Conduct organizational surveys
  • Collect data for news stories
  • Investigate new technologies
  • Monitor broadcasting operations to ensure proper operation 
  • Keep track of business indicators

About Tombolo Institute at Bellevue College: The learning experience at Tombolo Institute is distinguished by two factors. Firstly, classes include hands-on exercises and practice. Secondly, their ‘rock star instructors’ are industry experts with real-world experience. 

They actually work in local businesses. As a result, they bring real-world industry experience into the classroom. This means that when you ask a question, you will not receive a theoretical answer. You get an answer based on hard work and experience. You get a viewpoint from someone who has put solutions in place in their workplace.

Logo of Pima Community College

PIMA Community College: Certificate in Technical Writing

Introduction to the course: By writing for websites, emails, proposals, technical instructions, and other mediums, technical writers advance and improve both internal and external communications. If you want to improve your technical writing skills or pursue a professional career as a technical writer, this course is for you. 

It will improve your understanding and application of written communications, making you a valuable asset in any administrative, management, or technical writing role. You will learn research methods, audience considerations, various writing styles, drafting and revision techniques, working in a collaborative environment, and more throughout the course. 

This course will also introduce you to various media and formats, such as Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF, as well as the various writing standards that are typically required for each.

Course Fee: $2,618.75 Total Price (Excluding Tax)

Duration of course: 10 Hours per Week, 26 Estimated Weeks

Work activities you can put on your resume after the course:

  • Examine the specifics of technical drawings or specifications
  • Investigate new technologies
  • Keep track of current trends
  • Gather technical data or documentation
  • Proofread written materials
  • Design layouts for print publications 
  • Determine presentation topics or content

About PIMA Community College: Pima Community College is the premier training institution in Southern Arizona for adult learners seeking to gain skills and credentials quickly. This is the right place if you want to advance in your current job or find a new one.

The good and the bad for technical writing

Like any other job out there, there are both pros and cons to this job.

Pros for a Technical Writer

  • You have the potential to make a lot of money.
  • You can continue to hone your writing and editing skills.
  • You have the option of working as a freelancer, contractor, or full-time employee. If you like variety, working as a contractor or freelancer allows you to work for a variety of companies and industries. If you enjoy writing articles, poetry, novels, or other forms of writing, you can work a contract and then take a few months off to pursue your passion.
  • The job outlook is excellent as already discussed. From 2020 to 2030, employment will grow at a rate of 12%, which is faster than the average for all jobs and about 5,500 openings for Technical Writers are projected annually, on average, over the decade.
  • There are numerous opportunities for remote work. Some businesses require technical writers to work on-site.

Cons for a Technical Writer

  • It can be difficult to adapt your current writing skills to technical writing. Many people enjoy writing Medium articles, poetry, blogs, and even books, but they dislike technical writing. Most good writers who are disciplined and highly motivated can adapt to technical writing, but others will find it extremely difficult.
  • It can become stressful. You'll eventually have to work with difficult people, meet tight deadlines, deal with a slew of changes, and work under duress.
  • Your writing can become very dry and boring. After 20 years as a technical writer, I almost always get bored with the content very quickly. This is a significant challenge for many people.

Unmudl tips for success as technical writers!

Consider the following advice from us as you begin your career as a technical writer:

  1. Take charge of your skill development. Go through the technical and soft skills we shared above and try to get a certification that covers most of them. Any skill not covered can be acquired through other short courses.
  2. Concentrate your development in one area. This will help you specialize and specialists always earn more. For example, specialize in technology documentation or medical documentation.
  3. Consult with experts in the field you're writing about for feedback, because no technical writer knows every technical detail about every topic.
  4. When writing, adhere to a style guide.
  5. Make your paragraphs as short as possible in order to support a single idea.
  6. After finishing your first draft, read your content aloud as if you were the reader. This will assist you in identifying items that can be reworked.
  7. Only edit your first draft when you are completely focused.

Final thoughts

If you enjoy writing then you could earn good money doing what you love. Technical writing is a great way to write and get paid well, but only if you can adapt to the challenges of this rapidly growing field.

Some people transition easily to technical writing, while others struggle. We all have different writing and life goals. The best way to determine if technical writing is a good fit for you, like any other career, is to consider how it aligns with your values and the extent to which it allows you to use your gifts, strengths, and talents to make money and live a fulfilling life.

The key to getting started as a Technical Writer is getting a good certification and we have shown you a two good options above. We wish you all the success with your new career!

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