How to Become a Technical Writer

Technical writers produce books, manuals and website content for in-house or public consumption, and to become a technical writer you can take technical writer courses or pursue technical writer certification with any background experience or education.

Education and Training

Most technical writers possess an undergraduate degree in the sciences or have an undergraduate degree in English or communications. Many potential technical writers will use a hobby or skill and write on their speciality, so it is not necessary to major in these fields, though it may be more difficult to get through the initial screening process without this experience.

If you have an undergraduate degree, you can look for positions as a technical writer, or you can pursue additional certification, from a college or from a professional association, such as the Society for Technical Communication. Certification can be expensive however, so it is worthwhile to look for positions that will accept your undergraduate degree and then pursue additional professional development with the assistance of your employer.

Getting Started

Look for writing experience. They are plenty of places, in print and online, that need written content, which includes technical writing and instruction. You can also work on projects, particularly open source projects, that don't have much documentation, and supply the documentation yourself. Explore opportunities on sites such as Elance and look for  technical writing contracts that you can use to build your professional credentials. Many of these experiences will not be paid experiences, but they will provide writing samples and clips that you can show to an employer at an interview.

No matter where you work, you can prepare and submit written instructions that your employer and other staff members can use, from how to set up an out of office notice on your email program, to how to initialize the cash register each day, these writing assignments are similar to projects that you would work on as a technical writer. You can also help your professors write instructions or short manuals on how to use software and databases that are relevant to your current school work or research. This material can also be added to your file of clips or writing samples, and your professor can also give you a reference letter that makes notice of the technical writing that you prepared on their behalf.

You should also look for opportunities to hone your writing and editing skills. You can work as a peer tutor at a writing center, which will help your writing and editing, as well as help you understand how to give people assistance and direction on a wide variety of topics. You will also learn about how to write according to specific styles, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, and writing according to a format or style is a necessary skill for technical writers to acquire.

Advancement

Some technical writers will move into editorial positions at their firm, or manage the distribution of technical writing assignments amongst writers. Some technical writers may become authors of books, audio books, create documentation for websites or computer software companies. Other technical writers will graduate to writing textbooks or guidebooks for enthusiasts on a wide range of hobbies or skills. Other technical writers will develop their writing skills to become grant writers at non-profits or become web writing specialists and launch their own firms.