Technical Writers and Editors
The Department of Labor reports that the following metropolitan areas offer the best opportunities for technical communicators:
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia
- New York-Newark-Jersey City-New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
- Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, Massachusetts, New Hampshire
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California
- Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
There are approximately 58,400 technical writers currently employed in the United States. Editors of all types (including technical editors) hold 118,700 jobs.
Employment may be found in many different types of places, such as in the fields of aerospace, computers, engineering, pharmaceuticals, and research and development, or with the nuclear industry, medical publishers, government agencies or contractors, and colleges and universities. The aerospace, engineering, medical, and computer industries hire significant numbers of technical writers and editors. The federal government, particularly the Departments of Defense and Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Energy Information Administration, also hires many writers and editors with technical knowledge.
Many technical writers start their careers as scientists, engineers, technicians, or research assistants and move into writing after several years of experience in those positions. Technical writers with a bachelor's degree in a technical subject such as engineering may be able to find work as a technical writer immediately upon graduating from college, but many employers prefer to hire writers with some work experience.
Technical editors who graduate with a bachelor's degree in English or journalism may find entry-level work as editorial assistants, copy editors, research assistants, or proofreaders. From these positions they are able to move into technical editing positions. Beginning workers may find jobs as technical editors in small companies or those with a small technical communications department.
To work for the federal government, writers and editors need to pass an examination. Information about examinations and job openings is available at federal employment centers. Job openings may also be found through career services offices and employment agencies. Another job-hunt route is to research companies that hire technical writers and editors and apply directly to them. Many libraries provide useful job resource guides and directories that provide information about companies that hire in specific areas.
Technical writers and editors with experience move into more challenging and responsible positions. They may initially work on simple documents or sections of a document. As they demonstrate their proficiency and skills, they are given more complex assignments and are responsible for more activities.
Technical writers and editors with several years of experience may move into project management positions, where they are responsible for the entire document development and production processes. They schedule and budget resources and assign writers, editors, illustrators, and other workers to a project. They monitor the schedule, supervise workers, and ensure that costs remain in budget.
Technical writers and editors who show good project management skills, leadership abilities, and good interpersonal skills may become supervisors or managers. Both technical writers and editors can move into senior writer and senior editor positions. These positions involve increased responsibilities and may include supervising other workers.
Many technical writers and editors seek to develop and perfect their skills rather than move into management or supervisory positions. As they gain a reputation for their quality of work, they may be able to select choice assignments. They may learn new skills as a means of being able to work in new areas. For example, a technical writer may learn a new desktop program in order to become more proficient in design. Or, a technical writer may learn HyperText Markup Language (HTML) in order to be able to create a multimedia program. Technical writers and editors who broaden their skill base and capabilities can move to higher paying positions within their own company or at another company. They also may work as freelancers or set up their own communications companies.
Tips for Entry
Write often and create a portfolio of work to show potential employers.
To learn more about the field, read publications by the Society for Technical Communication, found at https://www.stc.org/publications, and the National Association of Science Writers' publication, ScienceWriters at https://www.nasw.org/publications/sciencewriters.
Attend the Technical Communication Summit (https://summit.stc.org) to network and participate in continuing education opportunities.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) offers a mentoring program for members; find information on its Web site at https://asja.org.