Technical Writing: How to Break Into this Lucrative World

Technical Writing: How to Break Into this Lucrative World

If you have a knack for explaining the most complex subjects to total newbies, then you should consider the world of technical writing.

Technical writing is all about simplifying complex topics and teaching users how to accomplish a specific task or goal. For example, a technical writer wrote the manual on operating your remote control, as well as the “Help” guide for your favorite writing program.

Could you be a technical writer?

What makes a good technical writer? You should be able to take any Average Joe and give them step-by-step instructions to successfully complete a project. As you may have experienced with Ikea furniture manuals, it’s not as easy as it sounds!

Technical writing is a unique writing career in that you don’t have to be an expert in the subject matter; your end user is typically a newbie, so the level of instruction and detail you are providing is introductory. However, in the course of your work, you’ll learn about new software applications, the latest technology products and the inner workings of systems and businesses — and this knowledge is transferable to other industries and projects.

Benefits of technical writing work

While most gigs are full-time corporate projects, there are also opportunities available on a contract basis, which allows you to earn a steady income for a short-term period. Since many freelancers experience inconsistency in where their next paycheck is coming from, there is a level of comfort in knowing that you will have consistent income for a few months.

Unlike one-off blog posts or articles, the contracts can range from six months to a couple of years in length. This commitment is necessary to develop an understanding of the product and then to create a full suite of essential documents such as policies, procedures, product manuals and technical requirements.

One caveat: most corporate gigs require you to be onsite, so you may have to give up working from home. However, a technical writing contract is a great opportunity to earn a steady income for a set amount of time and if you do a great job, you could possibly extend your contract. When it’s over, you can always return to your more flexible freelance lifestyle.

Demand for technical writers is growing

Technology continues to change, and as each new software or application launches, the need to help users understand and consume these products grows. Each new software-as-a-service product or wearable watch needs user guides and manuals. From startups in the growing phase to large corporations looking to streamline their operational processes, companies require written policies and procedures.

Technical communications is a growing field and technical writers are in high demand, especially in the IT industry. There is work out there — I field weekly requests from companies keen to hire — and it pays well. You can earn anywhere from $40 per hour or more, depending where you live (especially in tech-savvy cities like D.C. and Seattle) and on your level of expertise.

What training do you need?

If you’ve never written technical communications before, you should consider taking a course on technical writing and even earning your certification. If you’re just starting out, certification can help you gain credibility and overcome a limited background in this type of work. The Society for Technical Communication offers online training, or your local community college may be a good option for courses.

When I was starting out, I took a course through my local adult education program to get certified in technical writing. I was transitioning from an engineering background and wanted to add some credibility to my writing skills — which engineers aren’t usually known to have.

You can also work on building your portfolio by simply writing your own instructions for a software app that you like. For example, Tim Murphy created The Mint Manual for and was able to launch a very lucrative career.

Connect with IT and software companies

Most technical writing opportunities are within the IT industry, but you can find work anywhere from healthcare to the financial industry. New companies are great if you would like learn and write more about application programming interface (API) or expand on existing documentation, like Tim Murphy did.

Keep in mind that most startups may not have the budget to hire technical writers right off the bat; consider seeking opportunities from companies that have already been funded. That being said, I only recommend reaching out to nonprofit organizations and new startups if you’re willing to volunteer your services so that you can build a portfolio and eventually land paid opportunities. Whether you’re freelancing as a blogger or technical writer, you have to be selective about who has the ability to pay for your services.

Have you tried technical writing? Is it a field you’re keen to explore?

Filed Under: Freelancing
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  • Alison Galey says:

    Hi Kimmoy,

    I am a 5th grade teacher. I have a masters in elementary education and have been thinking about other options both in and out of the education field. I am interested in writing lesson resources and materials for companies that design curriculums and also think technical writing is appealing. My goal would be to write curriculum resources and I am wondering if I am taking the wrong step by pursuing freelance work as a technical writer? I feel a little lost about how to begin this career change.

    • Kimmoy says:

      Hi Alison,

      You may want to consider becoming an instructional designer. I would be happy to talk to you about the core skills needed for that role and offer tips on how to apply for those jobs. Visit and sign up for the free 4-part mini course for more insights.

  • Alexandria Hauser says:

    Hi Kimmoy,

    I am a study technician at a pharmaceutical company looking to become a technical writer. Is it true that being computer literate in programs like Adobe, Java, etc … is helpful in the field.

  • Alexandria Hauser says:

    Hi Kimmoy,

    I am a study technician at a pharmaceutical company looking to become a technical writer. Is it true that being computer literate in programs like Adobe, Java, etc … is helpful in the field?

    • Kimmoy says:

      Hi Alexandria,

      Yes, having a strong technical aptitude will definitely help you as a technical writer. Of course, it depends on what type of content you’ll be writing. Visit and sign up for the free 5 day email course for more insights.

  • Tony says:

    I know this will be an unpopular opinion on a website dedicated to technical writing but, as a technical writer myself: find another line of work. This is not rewarding work. Have you ever felt excited to open the booklets that come with pretty much everything you have ever bought? Have you read any of them? Even one? Exactly.

    It pays but so do many other, actually rewarding, jobs. Find another line of work for your own sake. Take it from me.

    • Kimmoy says:

      Tony, sounds like you’re the one in the wrong field. I currently work on the Google AdWords product and enjoy my work very much. Before this role, I worked at a financial regulatory agency where I created specs and API docs for developers and also enjoyed it. I guess the big difference is that the products I’ve worked on are web applications and not the booklets you’re referring to.

  • PB says:

    Hi Kimmoy

    I have around 7+ years of experience as. a java developer and is very keen to switch to API Technical writing. I do not have any experience on the same but would like to explore. Since I dont have any experience in any kind of technical writing, could you please suggest how can I apply for opportunities in api tech writing and even if I apply, do you think companies would prefer candidates without prior experience? Is there any kind of certification I need to do ?

  • Paul says:

    Hi Kimmoy,

    I have an undergraduate degree in film, TV script writing that I want to use in a general writing capacity. I’ve been a high school teacher and taught English and Media Studies and currently studying Public Relations and Communications.
    How does one enter technical writing without any history or networks. Currently I am a librarian helping educate people with CVs and basic computer literacy but want to use all of my skills.

  • Chris says:

    Maybe I am officially a geek, but I have enjoyed technical writing more than any other type of writing I have done throughout my career.

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