As one of the 50 Best Careers of 2011, this should have strong growth over the next decadeBy Rick Newman

The run­down:
A DVR oper­at­ing instruc­tion man­ual. An assem­bly man­ual for a cof­fee table. A how-to guide for using the lat­est smart phone. What do all of these have in com­mon? They are the results of the hard work of a tech­ni­cal writer. For those who are tech savvy and keep a copy of a Mac­Book instruc­tion man­ual handy for their bed­side read­ing, a career as a tech­ni­cal writer may be the right fit. Your job as a tech­ni­cal writer would be to trans­late difficult-to-understand infor­ma­tion into layman’s terms (think: oper­at­ing instruc­tions, how-to man­u­als, assem­bly instruc­tions, and online help infor­ma­tion). You may work in engi­neer­ing, sci­en­tific, or health­care fields, sim­pli­fy­ing highly spe­cial­ized infor­ma­tion for the aver­age Joe. Also, you’d work with com­put­ers and elec­tronic pub­lish­ing soft­ware, includ­ing graphic design, page lay­out, and mul­ti­me­dia soft­ware. Some tech­ni­cal writ­ers who are self-employed or work for a tech­ni­cal con­sult­ing firm do free­lance or con­tract work.

The out­look:
Future employ­ment for tech­ni­cal writ­ers looks bright, espe­cially for those with strong Web and mul­ti­me­dia skills, accord­ing to esti­mates by the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics. Tech­ni­cal writ­ing posi­tions are expected to grow by more than 18 per­cent, or 8,900 jobs, by 2018. There will be an increas­ing demand for tech­ni­cal writ­ers who spe­cial­ize in law, sci­ence, or tech­nol­ogy. Keep in mind that tech­ni­cal writ­ers will pros­per only to the degree their indus­try does—so jobs in health­care, for instance, may be more secure than jobs in other fields more vul­ner­a­ble to down­siz­ing or off­shoring.
Money:
Median pay for tech­ni­cal writ­ers was $62,700 in 2009. The lowest-paid tech­ni­cal writ­ers earn less than $37,000, and the highest-paid posi­tions earn more than $100,000. In some indus­tries, off­shoring may put down­ward pres­sure on pay.
Upward mobil­ity:
Advance­ment for tech­ni­cal writ­ers entails work­ing on more com­plex assign­ments, lead­ing or train­ing junior staff, and get­ting enough work to be a full-time free­lancer. Keep­ing up with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy is essen­tial. It helps if you’re com­fort­able work­ing as a con­trac­tor, since com­pa­nies increas­ingly pre­fer to hire that way.
Activ­ity level:
Rel­a­tively low. With con­tin­ued advances in lap­top com­put­ers and wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tions, tech­ni­cal writ­ers can work from vir­tu­ally any loca­tion with Inter­net access.

Stress level:
Mod­er­ate to high. Expect to work early morn­ings, late nights, and week­ends to meet dead­lines or coor­di­nate with clients in dif­fer­ent time zones. These dead­line pres­sures and work hours can often lead to stress, fatigue, and even burnout. Extended time spent in front of com­put­ers can lead to eye­strain and back pain.
Edu­ca­tion and prepa­ra­tion:
You will need a col­lege degree, some knowl­edge in a tech­ni­cal sub­ject, as well as Web design and com­puter graph­ics expe­ri­ence. Employ­ers look for tech­ni­cal writ­ers with a bachelor’s degree, prefer­ably in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, jour­nal­ism, or Eng­lish. It is becom­ing com­mon for tech­ni­cal writ­ers to have a degree in a spe­cial­ized field, such as engi­neer­ing, busi­ness, or sci­ence. Also, famil­iar­ity with Web design, elec­tronic pub­lish­ing, and com­puter graph­ics is becom­ing more valu­able in this dig­i­tal age.

Real advice from real peo­ple about land­ing a job as a tech­ni­cal writer:
“The key is to be able to talk to the tech­ni­cal experts—be they engi­neers, auto mechan­ics, food spe­cial­ists, or doctors—then inter­pret what they say and write it down in clear Eng­lish that other peo­ple can under­stand. One way to get started is to write non-fiction wher­ever and when­ever you can. Write arti­cles for local newslet­ters (every­body has a newslet­ter), web­sites, or blogs. Write instruc­tions, train­ing mate­ri­als, or safety pro­ce­dures at your cur­rent job. Even learn to write a book. In all cases, keep a copy of every­thing you write so you can show peo­ple what you’ve done.”—John Hedtke, owner of JVH Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in Eugene, Ore., and author of 26 books and nearly 200 mag­a­zine articles

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