How to Become a Technical Writer: Fundamentals & Certifications

a laptop placed next to a notebook and some documents

The demand for technical writers is strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that technical writer employment will grow by 7% over the next ten years. The demand is primarily driven by the need for companies to have properly documented policies and procedures. This is even more important for companies deeply involved with software, electronics, and other technology, which require easy-to-understand information for internal and external use.

Given how important technical writing is in the business landscape, we’ll discuss what’s involved in technical writing and why it pays to get certified.

What is Technical Writing?

Technical writing is best described as a discipline that takes complex language and simplifies it for the average reader. It involves translating high-level information from technical and scientific fields into relevant, easy-to-read content.

The writing style covers technical and specialized topics such as computer applications, medical procedures, and environmental regulations. Here are a few examples:

  • Quick reference guides and instruction manuals
  • Technical descriptions
  • Standard operating procedures
  • Project and product documentation
  • Medical and scientific documents
  • White papers and case studies
  • Training materials and policy guides

But technical writing isn’t reserved solely for technical or scientific fields. It’s present in almost every industry, including law, finance, and marketing.

How is Technical Writing Used?

A good technical writer is an educator; and good technical writing is useful. The goal of technical writing is to convey technical information so the reader can easily use it. Your document must teach the reader, which means it must be clear, simple, accurate, and useful.

Here are a few ways technical writing can help teach a reader complex ideas:

  • Breaks down research into easy-to-understand text
  • Informs employees how to conduct procedures safely
  • Simplifies complex product descriptions
  • Teaches customers how to properly assemble a product
  • Makes instructions or FAQs clear

What are the Requirements for a Technical Writer?

As a technical writer, you’re responsible for turning the stilted syntax, clunky clauses, and jarring jargon into something more accessible and digestible. You will take a document and make its contents relevant and useable to the reader, so you need to know enough about the topic to judge what’s relevant and useful.

Few people have the luxury to scour through every single word on a scientific document to find what they need, so they rely on technical writers to bring that to them. Writers who excel at research or enjoy parsing convoluted content are great fits for technical writing roles.

This background leads many technical writers to start out by assisting in technical or scientific research. Once they get a better grasp of technical writing skills, they can put together documents like instruction manuals, user guides, and FAQs.

But you do not need an advanced technical degree to be a technical writer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shares that the primary education requirement for all technical writing jobs is a college degree. Professional writers must also have a foundation in effective writing and hands-on experience in the technical field they aspire to cover.

Do You Need a Technical Writing Certification?

Technical writing can be a complex process, especially if you’re writing about financial technology or software as a service. These industries require top-notch writing expertise—so it pays to get a certification to show you’re qualified for any technical writing task.

A certification showcases your ability to deliver complex information in a structured and easy-to-digest format. Even though getting certified isn’t mandatory, it shows employers that you have the ability, training, and knowledge to synthesize technical information.

Certification is a great way to maximize your expertise and specialize. Here are some institutions that offer technical writing certification programs:

1. The American Medical Writers Association

The medical field requires one of the most specialized forms of technical writing, and the American Medical Writers Association offers the opportunity to become Medical Writer Certified (MWC). To apply for the certification, you’ll need at least two years of medical communications experience and a bachelor’s degree. Professional writers seeking the MWC must have an awareness of ethical standards in medicine and healthcare knowledge.

Once accepted, MWC writers need to complete continuing education courses to keep their certification current. People who maintain their certificate may use the MWC distinction after their names.

2. The Society for Technical Communication

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is the oldest and largest professional association that focuses on technical communication. It offers a three-tiered professional certification program: Foundation, Practitioner, and Expert. The program helps develop the knowledge and skills of technical communicators as they advance in their careers.

The testing process is increasingly rigorous with each certification level. The STC Certification gives technical writers an advantage over colleagues when vying for jobs, promotions, and pay increases.

3. The University of Washington

The University of Washington is a widely recognized institution that provides career-advancing opportunities to working professionals in the US. In the three-course certificate program, you’ll learn the fundamental concepts and practical applications of technical writing, such as document design and how to use software tools and systems.

The program is perfect for people with a strong writing background who want to beef up their technical writing expertise. Those with less experience may want to consider enrolling in the Business Writing: Reports, Proposals & Documents course.

4. Dalhousie University

Dalhousie University is a public research university in Nova Scotia, Canada that offers an online Technical Writing Certificate program. The interactive online course develops your skills in writing clear and compelling technical documents. During the program, you can meet your facilitator and other coursemates through live group coaching sessions.

The program is a good fit for writers working in technology, engineering, or science. The flexible learning format includes self-paced learning activities and realistic writing exercises.

5. Udemy

Udemy is a massive open online course provider with over 155,000 courses and 40 million students. It offers a broad range of technical writing courses, covering topics such as API documentation, engineering reporting, and business writing. Some of its most popular programs include:

Edit Your Technical Documents with Ease

To succeed in the technical writing or general business world, you must write well in every context. Documents and emails require shorter sentences and paragraphs so your ideas flow smoothly from one to the next—the last thing you’d want is to confuse your readers in the haze of jargon and convoluted phrasing.

WordRake is the go-to editing tool for technical writing professionals because it quickly edits your documents and improves your writing. Whether you’re writing for work, pleasure, or publication, use editing software like WordRake to convey technical information clearly and concisely.

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About the Author

Caroline Engle is WordRake’s Marketing Communications Specialist. She convinced WordRake to hire her as an intern after placing in editing competitions and writing a novel in a month. When she isn’t editing or writing copy, coordinating conference logistics, or helping improve WordRake’s functionality, she’s reading, going on ten-mile walks, or looking up flight prices. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Our Story

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggested changes appear in the familiar track-changes style. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.