View Full Version : How Do I Become A Technical Writer?Thank You!

08-29-2005, 04:46 AM
How Do I Become A Technical Writer? I am 20, years old. I go to De Anza College. In Ca. I would like to find out, what would it take for me to be a Technical Writer.

Tish Davidson
09-18-2005, 07:27 AM
I am assuming that since you are in Silicon Valley, you are talking about computer-related technical writing as opposed to biotech (although there are biotech technical writing opportunities in the Valley, too). First, if you are weak in grammar, you need to polish up your basic English skills. You can do this at DeAnza. I don't know if De Anza offers a technical writing class, but Ohlone in Fremont does, and the credits should transfer (at Ohlone, its English 156). You would also need to take some basic computer courses. After you have a year of courses, you should try to get a summer internship in the tech writing department at one of the computer companies. Talk to your career center about this in January of February when people are just beginning to think about interns. Also, UC Berkeley Extension offers a certificate in technical writing. I can't remember off hand how many courses it involves - 6, I think, but the UC Berkeley Extension catalog is online. Downside is that the classes are much more expensive than community college. Upside is that the program has a pretty good reputation. You might want to look at the Ohlone curriculum guide to professions on the Web here:http://www.ohlone.edu/catalog/2002-2003catalog/cat062-095_curriculumguides.pdf

and check out what is needed for a tech support specialist. You wouldn't need all those classes, but it would give you an idea which ones are the basic ones. Probably De Anza has something similar.

Chabot, the community college, in Hayward also offers 2 technical writing classes, Fundamentals of Technical Writing and Writing Great Technical Documents. The tuition is only $79 for each. You might also want to check out Mission College, the community college in Santa Clara, and see what they offer. If you don't find listings specifically under Technical Writing, search under Technical Communications or look in the English Department class listings.

Good Word
09-18-2005, 07:37 AM
Great info, Tish.

And I was wondering, given where you are at, Mr, E., what you think technical writing and why you want to explore this field.


09-20-2005, 07:37 AM
I've done it for years. The rules of "normal grammar" do not apply in most cases. But, that depends on the type of writing you will be doing - instructions for refueling a nuclear reactor or writing a magazine article on turbocharging. Magazines like a lot of fluff - technical procedures do NOT.

Get an engineering background. You can't write procedures for installing a jet engine in a plane if you don't have some mechanical engineering knowledge - unless all you do is ask the engineers and write down what they tell you in a specific format. If that's the case, you don't need to know much of anything - and won't get paid much as a technical writer either.

Writing detailed step-by-step procedures is like programming – one screw-up and something will not work correctly – or explode.

If you do get some kind of technical degree, you can start of by submitting articles to trade magazines. But be prepared to have everyone who reads it try to find the slightest error on your part – and then write a nasty letter to the editor if and when they do.

The more “serious” technical documents will go through a review committee – that will scrutinize the document to the nth degree. If you like long hours of researching engineering documents, tech specs, drawings, etc., then technical writing may be for you.

There are levels of technical writing jobs - from Junior to Senior. The folks who fill the senior positions will have some sort of advanced degree - and lots of experience on the particular thing he or she is writing about.

Good luck.

Good Word
09-20-2005, 06:21 PM
RE: Tech writer and degrees

Elwyn, you have an interesting point of view, but I think the market may be different in your geographic area than in some others, or perhaps in the specific field you are in. I know a few in medical technical writing that do have an advanced degree.

But I also know a lot of technical writers in the computer/software industries, and have interviewed and hired plenty, but few have advanced degrees. A few are engineers. I'm not and never had the inclination to become one, although it can certainly help. I was a tech writer for years, then a project lead, then a manager. Currently I'm an editor, and work with companies on a freelance basis as a technical editor, among other types of editing. While the writers that I work with are great at understanding technology, and working with software developers to get the information they need to create the documentation, few have advanced degrees. But they are usually very intelligent.

So it really varies. Most tech writers in Silicon Valley do not have an advanced degree.

I do know people who had a degree in something (psychology, for example) who decided they wanted to become a technical writer and went to a school that offered a certificate in tech writing, but that's different than an advanced degree.

09-20-2005, 10:47 PM
I've never worked as a technical writer for the software industry. I spent almost a decade and a half writing for the nuclear power industry and spent some time in the petrochemical and other manufacturing industries. I've also contributed to automotive publications. I could not have written about air flow dynamics and other subjects without knowing the math and science behind it.

There are different levels of technical writing; entry level to senior (subject matter expert).

I have a question about medical technical writing - what exactly do they write - how to do medical procedures?

Good Word
09-21-2005, 12:41 AM
Elwyn, let me know if you need an editor. ;)

All kinds of medical technical writing. For example, think about MRIs. There are probably several different kinds of documentation--from installation, to operating to reading the results. Then there's biotech and pharmaceuticals, where sometimes an advanced degree is required.

I'm currently editing software documentation for a company that makes software that tracks pharmaceuticals through the supply chain, from manufacturer on down. There are different types of documentation that are written for different types of audiences--installation instructions for the consultants and system administrator folks, user guides for the operators, troubleshooting stuff...stuff for different audiences that have different technical abilities. The writer does not have an advanced degree but is supersmart and has worked in software (but not pharmaceuticals) for a long time (I know because I was his direct report at another company). It helps that I know about technology and how software is made, but I don't need to know how to code (and that doesn't interest me). The writer doesn't want to be a software developer, and the software developer doesn't want to be a writer. Division of labor works well here, in your industry I can see how it wouldn't. He's a senior writer because of his writing experience and general experience in software, not because he's a software developer or knows tons about pharmaceuticals. I would take him as a senior writer any day to get the job done over someone whose sole experience is in creating the software.

But, there are areas in software where the engineering degree comes in handy, like when something is being created by software developers for software developers. It really all depends on the product.

09-21-2005, 02:46 AM
Agreed. Although, I'd want a M.D. writing a procedure for replacing a kidney!

Tish Davidson
09-21-2005, 09:40 AM
Much medical tech writing involves medical devices and equipment and is not all that different from tech writing for other types of equipment.

11-09-2006, 09:42 AM
Hello, it has been a while since I have posted here; I am enrolled, in the Technical Writing course. I have one more class to go, in order to receive my certificate. I am majoring in Technical Writing (I was thinking about getting a Associates degree, instead of just certificate) In addition, I am also, pursuing a degree in Liberal Arts and Communications. I will also be taking a few computer,automotive,health and other technical writing courses later. The focus now, is to get my certificate and maybe I can do distance learning later, in order to get my degree. I would like to know if I would need engineering degree, in order to get senior and junior technical writing jobs. Thank You!

11-09-2006, 09:48 AM
Also, would I be able to take a few classes on engineering or computers and put that into my resume?


Good Word
11-09-2006, 03:58 PM
Mr. EThoughts, wow. Pretty great.

And no, you do not need the degree in tech writing, although it wouldn't hurt. What you'll need is a don't-give-up attitude when you begin job hunting. The certificate is terrific. Just finish everything else. Classes in engineering or computers will be really useful and definitely put that into your resume or maybe your cover letter.

Do you know what field you might be looking in when you are ready to start job hunting?

Thanks for keeping us posted, btw. And let me know if you need help on your resume--happy to take a look for you.

Keep up the good work.

11-09-2006, 04:49 PM
Technical writing used to be defined very narrowly. Now, it is a much broader concept and is applied to just about anything from developing procedures manuals to creating qualification documents from a client-provided template. You might check your local contract houses (Manpower, Kelly, technical placement firms) since many companies use the temporary agencies now. The contract houses also use Monster to recruit. If you go that route, however, don't expect a "learning" curve. You will be expected to hit the ground running on any assignment.

An engineering degree, while helpful in some areas, is not required in most cases. Usually, the kind of technical writing assignments available project to project do not require that you have subject matter expertise. The ability to communicate is essential. If you have trouble with spelling and grammar, I would suggest looking elsewhere since most companies don't have a proof reader to check your work. You are considered the expert in this area so you need to develop proof-reading skills if you haven't already. I have been a full-time technical writer/editor for over 20 years (military, electronics, pharmaceutical) and will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

11-09-2006, 10:04 PM
It will interesting to see what you find out. I'm starting up a part tech writing career based on my engineering degree. I am sure that you could do straight out of college, I just don't know anyone who has. But it doubt it will be a problem. I would look for a corporate position straight out of college, they give a bit more time to get up to speed.

Good luck

12-15-2006, 06:39 AM
Thanks.. I really appreciate all of your responses. yea, my grammar needs work:) I am working on it as I am typing this. I need more experience in technical writing. So, my goal is to finish my certificate program and and continue doing freelance writing. I have been building my portfolio for writing. I am trying to get into copywriting stage... any suggest?

02-24-2007, 05:53 AM
I was surprised that no one has pointed the OP to the Society for Technical Communication (http://www.stc.org/).

They run great seminars and have their own job bank. They even have special rates for students.

I was a member for years and got quite a lot from my membership.

02-24-2007, 10:55 PM
I was surprised that no one has pointed the OP to the Society for Technical Communication (http://www.stc.org/).

They run great seminars and have their own job bank. They even have special rates for students.

I was a member for years and got quite a lot from my membership.
Let me second that recommendation. When I saw the thread title I was going to post about STC -- good to see it has already been done.

Look for a local chapter and attend a meeting if possible. In my experience (member for several years now), STC members are very welcoming of new folks.