Detailed Guide forTechnical Writers in California
May also be called: Assembly Instructions Writers; Documentation Writers; Handbook Writers; Manual Writers; Scientific Writers; Specifications Writers; Technical Communicators
What Would I Do?
From about the time of World War I, the occupation of Technical Writer grew out of the need for readable documentation in the military, electronics, aerospace, and manufacturing industries. The highly jargonized writing style of the scientists needed to be more accessible to the decision makers in order for the latter to make informed choices. In other words, Technical Writers put technical information into easily understandable language.
Technical Writers compose communication from product developers for users of the products. They must write in a concise and easy-to-read manner for consumer publications or in highly specialized language for experts, such as scientists and engineers. They also prepare product documentation, such as operating and maintenance manuals, catalogs, assembly instructions, project proposals, and training materials.
Technical Writers may serve as part of a team conducting usability studies to help improve the design of a product that is in the prototype stage. They plan and edit technical materials and oversee the preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts, contributing heavily to the overall layout of publications. Technical Writers also are found in the information technology industry, writing operating instructions for online help and documentation for computer programs.
Technical Writers must be proficient in computers and software, such as computer aided design (CAD), desktop publishing, office suite, and word processing.
Important Tasks and Related Skills
Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.
|View the skill definitions|
|Task||Skill Used in this Task|
|Organize material and complete writing assignment according to set standards regarding order, clarity, conciseness, style, and terminology.||Writing|
|Maintain records and files of work and revisions.||Written Expression|
|Edit, standardize, or make changes to material prepared by other writers or establishment personnel.||English Language|
|Confer with customer representatives, vendors, plant executives, or publisher to establish technical specifications and to determine subject material to be developed for publication.||Oral Comprehension|
|Review published materials and recommend revisions or changes in scope, format, content, and methods of reproduction and binding.||Written Comprehension|
|Select photographs, drawings, sketches, diagrams, and charts to illustrate material.||Communications and Media|
|Study drawings, specifications, mockups, and product samples to integrate and delineate technology, operating procedure, and production sequence and detail.||Information Ordering|
|Interview production and engineering personnel and read journals and other material to become familiar with product technologies and production methods.||Active Learning|
Below is a definition for each skill.
|View the tasks to skills list|
|Writing||Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.|
|Written Expression||The ability to communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand.|
|English Language||Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.|
|Oral Comprehension||The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.|
|Written Comprehension||The ability to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.|
|Communications and Media||Knowledge of media production, communication, and dissemination techniques and methods. This includes alternative ways to inform and entertain via written, oral, and visual media.|
|Information Ordering||The ability to arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).|
|Active Learning||Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.|
Technical Writers usually work at a desk in an office. While some Writers work in comfortable, private offices, others work in noisy rooms filled with the sounds of keyboards, printers, and the voices of other staff. During the planning and production of publications, Writers may be required to travel to other locations to discuss a project with others.
Some Writers keep regular office hours, either to maintain contact with sources and editors or to establish a writing routine, but most Writers set their own hours. Writers must also be willing to work evenings, nights, or weekends to produce a piece acceptable to an editor or client by the publication deadline. Deadline pressures and long, erratic work hours—often part of the daily routine in these jobs—may cause stress or fatigue. In addition, the use of computers for extended periods may cause some individuals to experience back pain, eyestrain, or fatigue. However, proper ergonomic procedures will reduce the likelihood of these hazards.
Union membership for Technical Writers depends on whether the company is unionized. Freelance Technical Writers can join the National Writers Union.
Will This Job Fit Me?
The job of Technical Writer may appeal to those who enjoy working with ideas that require an extensive amount of thinking. Technical Writers also usually enjoy working with forms, designs, and patterns.
Technical Writers need to have excellent communication skills, especially written, as well as strong listening and learning skills to process the highly technical and scientific information imparted to them.
What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?
The median wage in 2016 for Technical Writers in California is $87,043 annually, or $41.85 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.
Technical Writers working for an organization usually receive medical, dental, and vision insurance as well as life and disability insurance. Vacation, sick leave, and 401(k) are also parts of a typical benefit package. Freelance Technical Writers, however, are responsible for paying for their own insurance.
What is the Job Outlook?
The demand for Technical Writers is expected to increase because of the continuing expansion of scientfic and technical information, especially in California, and the need to communicate it to others.
Projections of Employment
In California, the number of Technical Writers is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Technical Writers are expected to increase by 22.4 percent, or 1,700 jobs between 2014 and 2024.
|Estimated Employment and Projected Growth|
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Due to Net
|View Projected Growth for All Areas|
Annual Job Openings
In California, an average of 180 new job openings per year is expected for Technical Writers, plus an additional 170 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 350 job openings.
|Estimated Average Annual Job Openings|
|Jobs From Growth||Jobs Due to|
|View Data for All Areas|
How Do I Qualify?
Education, Training, and Other Requirements
Many employers prefer applicants with a four-year college degree in communications, journalism, or English, or those possessing a degree or certificate in technical writing. Increasingly, technical writing requires a degree in, or some knowledge about, a specialized field—for example, engineering, business, or one of the sciences. A background in web design, computer graphics, or other technology field is progressively practical, because of the growing use of graphics and representational design in developing technical documentation.
Employers select trainees from among technicians who have background in science, military equipment, and communications. Potential trainees should have good communication skills and be able to convey scientific and technical information accurately and clearly.
Employers generally prefer two to four years of writing experience, usually of a technical nature, as well as extensive practical experience in desktop publishing, graphic design, or project management.
Early Career Planning
Individuals interested in becoming Technical Writers should take courses in communication, journalism (especially interviewing skills), English, mathematics, physics, graphic arts, and computer-related subjects. Potential Technical Writers should also acquire a solid background in the industry in which they wish to work.
California also offers Regional Occupational Program (ROP) courses, such as Technical Writing Occupations. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site at www.carocp.org/carocps.html.
Work Study Programs
Some employers offer internships with their companies as a valuable way for them to recruit potential talent and for prospective Technical Writers to gain beneficial on-the-job training.
Technical writing requires people who are not only skilled as Writers but are able to keep pace with changing technology. Today, many Technical Writers produce work for online and multimedia publications which require additional specialized software skills.
While California does not require certification to be held by Technical Writers, there are many voluntary certifications available designed to develop the various skills of those in the profession. A few examples are the Certified Document Imaging Architect (CDIA+), Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+), and Certified Documents Technologist (CDT). For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.
Where Can I Find Training?
There are two ways to search for training information:
Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.
Where Would I Work?
The largest industries employing Technical Writers are as follows:
|Industry Title||Percent of Total Employment for Occupation in California|
|Computer Systems Design and Rel Services ||14.8%|
|Management & Technical Consulting Svc ||9.2%|
|Architectural and Engineering Services ||8.2%|
|Scientific Research and Development Svc ||7.8%|
|Employment Services ||6.6%|
Finding a Job
Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Prospective Technical Writers should prepare a portfolio of technical writing samples, which may include projects completed as a student or a volunteer as well as previous professional work. Professional association meetings and college job fairs can be good places to make contacts and get advice from those experienced in the field. Social networking sites can also be beneficial in establishing and nurturing relationships with those within the field. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.
To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).
Yellow Page Headings
You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Technical Writers.
- Computer Technical Assistance and Support
- Editorial and Publication Services
- Government - City
- Government - County
- Government - State
- Technical Manual Preparation
Find Possible Employers
To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:
- Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
- Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
- Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
- Contact the employer for possible employment.
Where Could This Job Lead?
Advancement for Technical Writers is somewhat limited. In larger organizations, Technical Writers can advance to become information designers, project managers, or senior Technical Writers. Promotion to these positions often takes the form of increased responsibility and pay raises.
Below is a list of occupations related to Technical Writers with links to more information.
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These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.
For the Career Professional
The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.