Technical writers translate complex information, such as engineering specifications or computer procedures, into documents that the target audience for a technical product can easily understand. They earn their salaries by primarily working in offices, but may occasionally go to production floors or labs to view procedures or talk to technicians first-hand.
Technical writers, sometimes called technical communicators, earned an average annual wage of $67,280, as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the 10th percentile made under $37,990, and the 90th percentile received over $102,250. Writers determine the needs of the end user of a product or service, and study a product to determine how it meets those needs. They then describe the uses of a technology through such documents as instruction manuals, start-up guides, help text, product brochures and website content. They gather critiques from both customers and technical staff to revise and improve the content of their efforts.
In 2011, about 17 percent of all tech writers worked for computer systems design and related services to earn average incomes of $70,190. Their highest compensation was with wireless telecommunications carriers that did not include satellites. The mean pay was $86,760. Employers typically require a bachelor’s degree in communications, English or journalism for entry-level positions. Many manufacturers also require knowledge of a specialized field such as computer science, medicine or automobile manufacturing. Beginners may start by revising chapters of a large manual. As they gain more experience, they may lead projects that include several related documents.
The state with the most opportunities for technical writers in 2011 was California, which contained over 11 percent of the positions, and average pay of $84,380. Texas was next with 6 percent of the professionals at a mean $60,110, followed by Virginia, with 4 percent at an average $76,310. California also topped the high pay list, followed by Massachusetts at a mean of $82,060, and Washington at an average $79,450. The city with the most work was Washington, D.C., with 6 percent of the positions and mean pay at $76,920. San Jose, California, boasted the highest urban wages at $101,330.
The BLS expects the employment of technical writers to increase by 17 percent from 2010 to 2020. This compares to 14 percent for all jobs, and 13 percent for all media and communications occupations. The expansion of scientific and technical products, and the increase of web-based product support will fuel the demand. Professional, scientific and technical services firms will continue to be a source of new jobs because many companies are outsourcing their technical documentation needs. Job opportunities will be best for those with strong technical skills.