Nerdy Careers: How To Be a Technical Writer

Do you dream of a career where you craft beautiful phrases together to communicate with readers who hang on your every word? You’re a writer, and that’s the only job you’ve ever wanted. The only problem is, well, your name isn’t Stephen King, so a paycheck from novel writing isn’t in the cards just yet. But fret not! There are plenty of writing and writing-related jobs out there that not only promise a paycheck, but can satisfy your word urges by allowing you to while away your hours writing.

Technical writing is one such occupation. Most tech writing gigs won’t allow you to create a clever plot or put characters into life-threatening situations where they’re saved by the hero just in the nick of time. But you will get invaluable practice researching, writing, and self-editing.

But what exactly is technical writing? Well, it depends upon what sort of technical writing you’re doing. Some tech writers get to write the instructions for electronics. Some write the content for online training courses. It really just depends on the company that the writer writes for. But the job will always entail a few specific things:

1. Research.
Tech writing is like writing research papers for a living. You’re given some information, and thats what you use to do your writing. In some cases, you may even have to do some interviewing to get the information you need. Your function as a tech writer is to serve as a conduit from the science-minded folks to the intended (likely not science-minded) recipients.

2. Nerd out.
If you’re on this blog, chances are, you know how to nerd out. Only in this case, instead of memorizing the timelines in Doctor Who, you basically need to become an expert in whatever you’re writing. Through the past year, I’ve become an expert in how to survive in arid, cold, mountain, and tropical environments. I also know a thing or two about decontaminating after exposure to certain types of radiation. Just let your obsessive fangirl instincts take over, and you’ll be reciting the new information in no time.

3. Outline.
What good is information if you don’t organize it? Look at what you’ve been tasked to write and compare that to the information you have. From there, you need to create an outline of what you’re going to write. Are you having terrible flashbacks for research papers from college? You should be. That’s basically what’s going on.

4. Bash it out.
You’ve got your information. You’ve got your outline. Now, you write. Butt in chair. Hands on keyboard.

5. Edit.
If you’ve ever looked back over something you’ve written, surely you’ve had moments where you couldn’t recall what exactly your brain was trying to say. For this, we have edits. All your misspellings and odd punctuations need to be taken care of, and from there, your writing will move on to the next phase. In some cases, that means going to print. For some, that means your words go to a graphic designer. Sometimes it will go to a programmer. It all depends on how your information will be conveyed in the end product.

So that’s it. Kind of. I mean, you’ll need to find a technical writer position and apply for it. Most employers don’t require a specific degree, and I’ve worked with writers that majored in everything from biology to theatre. Just wow them with a writing sample at the interview. Then, just sit back, relax, and find yourself researching and writing about anything from how to put the batteries in a calculator to how to dismantle a time bomb. The possibilities are endless!