What is the Technical Writer Career Path?

Updated on January 28th, 2022
What is the Technical Writer Career Path?

The technical writer career path usually starts with some experience in a technical field. That field can be anything from programming to engineering. 

Most organizations that hire technical writers tend to add a requirement for technical experience. It gives potential writers a unique perspective on the technical side of things. 

After a few years in a technical field, you can shift towards a technical writer career. It starts by understanding how technical writing works, different types of technical writing, and working on your writing skills. 

In this article, we’ll go over the various roles technical writers go through, along with how you can start your career. 

Let’s dive right in. 

What is the Technical Writer Career Path? 

If we are to break it down, the technical writing career path starts with a bachelor’s degree in a technical field. Using that degree, you get a few years of experience in a technical job. Then, you use that experience to develop complex technical documentation. 

However, having a bachelor’s degree is not a necessity in every industry. For example, if you work as a heavy maintenance professional, there’s a good chance you went to trade school. Or, you’re developing your skills while working. 

In any case, you have the skills and the knowledge for heavy maintenance without going to college. You can transform that experience by developing technical documentation, such as heavy maintenance checklists, manuals, and guides. 

Therefore, it’s not necessary to have a bachelor’s degree. The same applies to programmers and data experts that learn skills online. 

However, in all cases, having active work experience is a requirement. That experience can be with an organization or private projects in your portfolio. 

Furthermore, let’s say you’re already a technical writer but still a bit new to the field. As you move on in your technical writer career, you’ll have a few different paths. 

Typically, technical writers move on to become senior technical writers and technical writing managers (or technical content marketing managers). 

Another career path is where you can move on to become a technical writing editor or technical editor. 

Some organizations have specific job roles, such as documentation manager or API technical writer

That mostly depends on your industry and organization. Moving on, we’ll go over the typical technical writer career. 

Prerequisites for Becoming a Technical Writer 

Here’s a summary of the prerequisites for becoming a technical writer down to a few key points. 

  • Prior technical experience in the field you’ll be writing for. 
  • A college degree (or equivalent education) in the field you are specializing in. However, it’s not necessary in a lot of cases. 
  • Excellent writing skills are a must. A tech writer also needs a robust understanding of APA paper formatting and MLA style of writing. 
  • Prior experience in writing technical docs, how to guides, and supporting documents is helpful. 
  • Tech writers should have the ability to transform complex technical information and any technical subject into easy-to-understand technical documentation. 
  • A technical writing certification or course from a reputable source. 

Keep in mind that the requirements listed above are commonplace in most industries. However, each industry and organization will have its set of prerequisites and requirements. 

For example, medical writing may need a certification from the American Medical Writers Association. 

Similarly, technical writers in the information technology industry may need to show extensive continuing education programs in their resumes. 

A good way to go about it is to carefully research your industry. Then, decide what you want to specialize in. Research that specific pool to understand what prerequisites and requirements apply to you. 

What Does a Technical Writer Career Path Look Like? 

Regardless of what the industry is, the technical writer career follows a specific route. We’ll go over each job role in detail, along with their responsibilities and qualifications (in order). 

However, keep in mind that the job roles may have different names, depending on the industry and organization. 

Junior Technical Writer

As entry-level technical writers, your first role will be as a junior technical writer. This role can either be research-heavy or it can focus on writing only. 

For the most part, junior technical writers find source materials, data, and files for documentation. They also research documentation guidelines to assist the documentation process. 

Junior technical writers that focus their efforts on grant writing often specialize in that field. That puts them on a different career path towards grant writing. 

Typical Job Responsibilities 

The following are some common responsibilities of junior technical writers. 

  • Assist technical writers in writing technical documentation. 
  • Update existing technical content. 
  • Help senior technical writers in researching and developing guidelines. 
  • Work with the technical team to draft technical content. 
  • Develop reports using valuable and relevant user feedback. 
  • Edit how-to manuals and user guides to make them more user-friendly. 
  • Provide ideas on improving documentation. 

The junior technical writer position is usually a probationary role. 

Qualifications 

The following are typical qualifications that most organizations expect from junior technical writers. 

  • 0-2 years of experience in a technical background. 
  • Bachelor’s degree in a relevant technical field. 
  • Excellent writing and technical communication skills and familiarity with various writing styles. 
  • Technical expertise in one or several fields. 
  • Familiarity with documentation guidelines, formats, and processes. 
  • Excellent project management, communication, and analytical skills. 

The qualification requirements for a technical writer are not that different. The difference is mostly in the overall level of experience. 

Technical Writer 

The next stage in the career path is the technical writer job. Technical writers have greater responsibility in managing organizational documentation. They develop internal and external documentation for employees and consumers. 

These documents can be white papers, journal articles, instruction manuals, press releases, technical reviews, technical tutorials, user guides, API documentation, and internal technical memos. 

Typical Job Responsibilities 

The following are some of the primary responsibilities of technical writers. 

  • Write technical documents according to ongoing projects. 
  • Collaborate with multiple departments and technical staff to provide them with the necessary documentation. 
  • Research, draft, and edit technical content. 
  • Work with fellow subject matter experts to gather data and information. 
  • Provide solutions for improving research methods, data collection, and documentation processing. 
  • Develop project specifications and manage the documentation for organizational projects. 
  • Formulate internal guides and manuals to improve internal processes and departments. 

Keep in mind that your career path as a technical writer is different from your industry specialization. 

Qualifications 

The following are typical qualifications that most organizations expect from technical writers. 

  • 1-2 years of experience in a technical role. 
  • Bachelor’s degree in a relevant technical field. 
  • Excellent writing and technical skills and experience in writing technical documentation. 
  • Ability to collaborate with other subject matter experts and internal team members. 
  • Proven technical expertise in relevant fields. 
  • Strong understanding of various documentations, writing styles, and formats. 
  • Completion of technical writing certifications and courses. 
  • Good technical communication skills. 

Industry-specific specialization will require additional qualifications. 

Senior Technical Writer 

The senior technical writer often imitates a managerial role but isn’t one. They need good managerial skills to manage and train junior staff. 

Senior technical writers are completely independent and usually write more complex technical documentation, such as technical support documentation, machine manuals, detailed scripts, and product guides. They’re also excellent technical communicators and can manage more complex projects. 

They also train technical writers and other junior staff to ensure maximum productivity from the team. 

Typical Job Responsibilities 

The following are some common responsibilities of senior technical writers. 

  • Manage technical writers and junior technical writers. 
  • Train junior staff through regular training sessions. 
  • Write expert-level technical documents. 
  • Collaborate with internal and external stakeholders on projects. 
  • Create worksheets and manage multiple projects and tasks. 
  • Provide feedback to other writers and offer improvement exercises and tips. 
  • Work closely with the development team to ensure all relevant information reaches the final documentation. 
  • Edit the work of other technical writers. 

Senior technical writers often have different job titles in different organizations and industries. 

Qualifications 

The following are typical qualifications that most organizations expect from senior technical writers.

  • 3-6 years of experience in a technical field. 
  • 4-5 years of experience as a technical writer. 
  • Bachelor’s degree in a relevant technical field. 
  • Master’s degree in a relevant technical field. 
  • Excellent leadership, team management, and project management skills. 
  • Ability to handle multiple complex projects. 
  • Deep understanding of writing styles, guidelines, and formats. 

The senior technical writer usually completes certifications and courses to update themselves on the latest industry trends. 

Technical Documentation Editor/Technical Editor 

The technical editor role often goes side by side with the senior technical writer role. A technical writer can choose to move towards a senior technical writing role or an editing role. 

This is where the technical writer career diverges into a different role. However, the next role in line is often the same for both. 

The technical editor proofreads, edits, revises, and regularly updates technical documentation. 

They need to ensure that all documentation follows the correct format and guidelines. On top of that, they also consistently check things like punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and styling. 

Typical Job Responsibilities 

The following are some common responsibilities of technical editors. 

  • Proofread, edit, revise, and update technical documentation. 
  • Fact-check all the information in the documentation. 
  • Review the writing process at different stages. 
  • Provide work templates and guidelines to writers. 
  • Offer regular feedback to writers to help them improve their work and efficiency. 
  • Commit to quality assurance tests for information in how to guides, manuals, and maintenance checklists. 

Some organizations may add managerial responsibilities to the mix too. 

Qualifications 

The following are typical qualifications that most organizations expect from technical editors.

  • 3-6 years of experience in a relevant technical role. 
  • 4-6 years of experience in technical writing or editing. 
  • Bachelor’s degree in a technical field or English. 
  • Excellent understanding of the English language, documentation guidelines, and documentation formats. 
  • Strong skimming, editing, proofreading, and rewriting skills. 
  • Ability to quickly grasp technical information. 

At times, the roles of the technical editor and senior technical writer merge into one role, especially in smaller organizations. 

Additional Roles in the Technical Writer Career Path 

The roles above are easily detectable throughout the technical writing community. However, there are other roles within the technical writing career path, including the following. 

  • Documentation Manager - They’re technical specialists and experienced writers who understand and oversee the documentation development process entirely. Meanwhile, they plan, lead, and coordinate the technical team while organizing resources. They also manage the budget and delivery of technical assets. This role often comes after the senior technical writer role. 
  • Technical Writing Intern - The technical writing intern role is an entry-level technical writer role that serves as a gateway to becoming a junior technical writer. They spend most of their time learning about technical documentation and training to write them. 
  • Head of Technical Content - This role is only present in large organizations that have a sizeable technical team. The head of technical content manages and oversees all technical documentation projects. They provide the necessary assets, resources, and permissions that are necessary for preparing documentation. 

Other roles such as a medical writer, legal writer, or software technical writer are industry-specific roles. 

How Do I Become a Technical Writer? 

While getting into technical writing is possible in multiple ways, here’s a common path that most technical writers take. 

  1. Get a Bachelor’s Degree - in a relevant technical field. 
  2. Opt for a Technical Writer Certification - from a reputable source. 
  3. Develop a Portfolio - of your technical writing samples and documentation. 
  4. Focus on Your Professional Network - by connecting with the right stakeholders. 
  5. Increase Industry Knowledge - of what you want to specialize in. 

On top of that, work on developing your technical writing skills. Technical writers work best when they focus on one niche and specialize in that. It also helps to further familiarize yourself with the technical side of things, in addition to your technical experience. 

Wrapping It Up 

The technical writer’s career path can vary depending on what industry you’re in. For example, if you’re in the finance industry, you can become a technical writer without having to go through a junior role. 

However, in more technical industries like the computer science industry, your career path will be relatively longer. 

In any case, the demand for technical writers in every industry will continue to increase. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for technical writers will increase by 12% in the next ten years. 

If you start with your technical writing career today, you’ll be opening yourself to countless new technical writer jobs.