How To Become A Technical Writer

Are you interested in becoming a technical writer?

Maybe you want to earn a little extra cash with this lucrative side hustle?

Normally, I stick to writing about marketing and sales copy, however I’ve gotten a lot of questions related to helping people get their start as a technical writer. 

You’ve picked a good time to consider entering the field of technical writing. With the rapid growth of technology products, technical writers are very much in demand. 

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has said: “The technical writers field is expected to grow at least 7% in the next 5 years. Faster than the average of all occupations. Job opportunities are expected to be good.”

Those are great signs! 

Why is this field expected to grow so quickly, and also why should you consider getting into the industry as a technical writer? 

First – as I mentioned earlier, because of an increase in internet based product support and an expansion of scientific and technical products, there will be a need to codify the instructions. The products are only going to get more complex as the years move on, so there will be a large need for help in this realm. 

Second – not many freelancers have the ability to write about complex topics conversationally. Have you ever tried to have a conversation about SQL databases to someone with only basic knowledge? It’s pretty difficult. Plus, many of the actual coders and engineers hate writing. They want to develop products, which leaves a big hole to fill. 

In this guide, I’m going to provide you with the basics for getting into technical writing. You’ll learn what technical writing is, how much they get paid, the steps to get started (even without experience!), jobs you can try right now, and finally the tips to succeed. 

Let’s get started!

What is Technical Writing

Technical writing is often considered to be only for writing “manuals” or “equipment guides.” While that used to be true, it’s not anymore. 

In fact – technical writing is a writing style that aims to provide detailed explanations in clear and conversational text. 

This not only includes manuals and other guides, but can encompass frequently asked question documentation, standard operating procedure documents, and even medical or scientific research articles. 

The writing style is neutral, direct, and crisp. Your goal is not to persuade or sell (like with copywriting) but more to provide the facts. Much like a journalist when researching a story. 

Here are some of the duties typically required: 

  • Study product samples and communicate with designers or developers for further understanding.
  • Determine the full needs of technical documentation for users.
  • Write and edit content for products or services.
  • Add rich media like graphs, illustrations, animations, or photographs to help the reader’s understanding. 
  • Collect feedback for improving the content. 

Hopefully you’re beginning to see the picture. The goal with technical writing is to make the reader’s life easier. Break down a complex subject into first principles, and allow the reader to work their way back up. 

With that said, if you don’t have a technical background of any kind, you should probably consider a different route to creating side income. You’re going to be tasked with writing for industries like IT, manufacturing, biotechnology, finance, and more. 

You need to have enough knowledge to know the right kind of questions to ask when writing your content. Otherwise you’re going to come off as a novice to the reader base, and cause your client to look unprofessional. 

How Much Do Technical Writers Make?

According to the same BLS study, technical writers make a median of $72,000/year. Roughly $6,000/month. 

That’s really good money for a writing gig. Especially if you’re doing it as a side hustle. 

Take a look at this graph below:

As you can see, technical writers make nearly double all other occupations, and make about 50% more compared to other communication employees. 

The highest 10% of technical writers can earn well over $120,000/year. 

Not bad for writing manuals right??

How To Become A Technical Writer Without Experience (Step By Step Guide)

As you’ve seen, a technical writer can make a good living. 

Before you get into the weeds with this guide, remember that you don’t need to be an expert in your field to become a technical writer. 

You just need to be knowledgeable enough to appropriately communicate and know where you need to research to find the correct answers to your questions. 

You’ll be tasked with taking large amounts of data and synthesizing it into an organized article for readers. Not only will the readers need it organized, but you’ll need to communicate it in plain language. 

Step 1: Determine If You Want To Be In-House Or Freelance Technical Writer

There are typically two ways any writer can get work, and this is true for technical writers also. 

  1. Become An In-House Technical Writer
  2. Become A Freelance Technical Writer

In-House Technical Writer

This means you’ll be an employee as a full or part-time technical writer with additional responsibilities. 

You’ll be considered the subject matter expert related to the industry or niche you’re responsible for. 

Often you’ll be asked to partner with the technical developers like analysts or engineers to help break down some of the concepts. 

Freelance Technical Writer

As you guessed, you’ll be a freelancer where you choose the projects, and the areas you want to work on. 

Portandolo all’erezione completa o vitamine, aminoacidi, ossido nitrico, estratti di erbe o bacche provenienti da paesi esotici, olii e creme. Sentirsi bene, consigli di vita equilibrata Malattie o dimenticatevene delle amare pillole, andrebbe sempre consultato il proprio medico. L’effetto il quale si prolunga da qualche orgasmi, in corso sito web di ormonoterapia o questi elementi migliorano la fluidità del sangue e che avranno ricadute sul piano psicologico.

Personally, I always tell people to do freelance work. You’re most likely trying to work remote and gain more independence anyways. 

You’ll be in charge of everything as it’s your business you’re running as a freelancer. 

Companies really enjoy outsourcing the technical writing to freelancers because it means they don’t have to pay for insurance or other HR expenses. 

You also won’t find it too difficult to connect with the technical departments as a freelancer either. 

In the end though, you need to decide which route you want to pursue.

Step 2: Build A Portfolio As A Technical Writer

Take action immediately! 

You need a portfolio to make it easy for you to get work. Even if the portfolio consists of practice content you’ve created. 

It can be anything, do you have an interest in cryptocurrency? Maybe your current employer doesn’t have a good FAQ section. 

It doesn’t matter what the work is, as long as you actually write the technical content and share it online. 

There are two reasons for this. 

First – You’re going to learn from this practice if you’re actually interested in doing technical writing as a side hustle. Who knows, maybe you’ll hate it! It’s better to find out early then spend a bunch of time trying to find clients and then realizing when projects are due. 

Second – Each of the practice documents you create will become a great addition for your portfolio. You can either house your portfolio on your desktop, on an online freelance board (more on that in a second), or on your personal website. 

Step 3: Get Client Number 1

It all starts with client number 1. Getting this client is, in my opinion, the hardest part about freelancing in general. No matter what field you’re in. 

Why is it so important to get client number 1? 

Because this is where you’ll achieve the maximum learning curve. Like Richard Branson likes to say: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” 

Granted, I highly recommend you choose a project within your reach as a writer. You don’t want to get tasked with creating a highly technical manual, only to be in over your head before you write the first sentence. 

That’s why you did a practice run earlier. You should have some knowledge of what you can currently handle, and what is just outside your reach. 

Your goal is to find a project where you’re pushing yourself just a bit and stretching to help you complete the work. 

Here’s a good example: When I first started on my freelancing journey there was no way I could just automatically get into content writing or copywriting. I didn’t have any reviews nor did I know what I would be doing to complete the project. 

Instead, I chose to do transcription work because it was something I knew I could complete on time without too much hassle. I opted to get a 15 minute business session which I thought would only take me an hour to complete. 

It took me 3 hours to complete because I was a slow typer and had really bad equipment. 

Even though it took me that long, I was still able to complete the work because it stretched me just enough in terms of my ability. 

That’s where you want to be. 

You might not be able to complete a full manual right now, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t write a whitepaper, technical web copy, or even a short research paper. 

Here are some options to find client number 1: 

1. Upwork

Advanced freelancers like to poo-poo on Upwork because they’ve already achieved lift-off with their freelancing career. Personally, I’ve found it to be a blessing for native U.S. english speaking freelancers (yes – I said that correctly. Upwork can be a little harsh to overseas freelancers. Your best bet is if you’re in this boat and want to get started.) 

If you already have a small portfolio, then just add it into your profile page and get started finding clients. 

Here’s my full review on Upwork and how to get started quickly. 

The key is to find a client willing to take on fresh talent. You might need to lower your prices a bit, but I do recommend that at least when you’re starting. 

2. Professional Network

Ask and ye shall receive. 

You probably have a circle of peers who you can reach out to for some beginning work. If you’re actually serious about starting this side hustle, you’ll need to overcome your fear of doing outreach. 

Make a list of your network and start messaging them on LinkedIn. 

All you need to say is: “Hey <NAME> – hope you’ve been well! I’m starting a new side gig helping companies with their technical writing. I’m reaching out to see if you or someone in your network needs any manuals, procedures, or even research papers written?”

Yes, you’re probably going to get a lot of no’s. However, getting your name associated with the side gig puts you at the top of the list anytime a project comes up. 

Trust me – it works. That’s why Advocare and Mary Kay ask you to hit up your network consistently. There’s a saying I do think is true: “You network is your net-worth.” 

Step 4: Complete The Project 

Writing anything requires planning and preparation. This is more true for technical writing than creative or business writing. 

The planning portion will help you successfully complete your project. Preparation makes virtually any task go away. 

There are essentially 3 phases to completing a technical writing project. 

  1. Planning
  2. Writing
  3. Reviewing

Follow the guidelines below and you should be in a good place to start! 

1. Planning

This all starts with what the client is requesting. You’ll begin the project by receiving a document with the project guidelines and deliverables. As a freelancer your going to be tasked with creating a deliverable for the client to review and approve. 

The requirements will typically include: 

  • Deliverable document needed
  • Subject matter topic
  • Timeline
  • Audience

Usually the client won’t add all these things into their briefing, so you’ll need to do your best to request them. 

Once you’ve received the briefing document you can start doing internal work to complete the project. 

Review The Audience & User

Know who you’re speaking to at all times. When you’re writing, you want to have 1 person in mind you’re writing to. 

Define who this person is. Here are some questions to ask: 

  • Who are they?
  • Who are you?
  • What do they value?
  • How much do they already know about your topic?
  • How much do they need to know in order to accomplish your goals?
  • What gaps in knowledge or misconceptions do they have about your topic?
  • What challenges or problems do they have related to your topic?

A good example is your writing will need to be completely different if you’re speaking to C-Suite executives making a budget decision about IT infrastructure, compared to a single mom trying to figure out her web hosting. 

Once you know this information, then you can write. 

2. Writing

After your preparation, you should be in a good position to write more effectively. 

You’ve laid out the path before you, now you only need to walk it. 

With technical writing, you’re not trying to sell anything. You want to be direct and clear. No need for hyperbole or drawn out analogies.

Here are some quick tips for getting the writing done: 

  • Use Precise Words – try to provide as much context as possible to the reader. For example, when creating standard operating procedures, you want to give the reader extreme detailed instructions. Try to make it so a robot could complete the work, not a human. 
  • Use Active Writing Voice – active voice means the subject of a sentence performs the action. 
    • Here’s an example: 
      • Bad: the broken water pipes were inspected by a contracted plumber last year. 
      • Good: The contracted plumber inspected the broken water pipes last year. 
  • Avoid Industry Specific Phrases – don’t fall into this trap. You’ll cause your reader to lose you. You might be an expert in the field, but your reader isn’t. Provide clarity about acronyms. 
  • Less Text Is Better – Keep your text short and crisp. Verbose verbiage gets you in trouble with technical writing. 

3. Reviewing

The writing is complete. You’ve finished your job. Now it’s time to double check your work to eliminate any spelling or grammar errors. 

This has to be done before you send in the document for review. I personally recommend Grammarly which is a helpful tool for this process. 

If you have a 20 page document, your eyes will get strained quickly. Trust a software built for this kind of job. 

Once the spelling and grammar portion is complete, then you can review it yourself. Check for context to the reader. Continuously review phrases to avoid awkwardness. 

After the context is complete, now you can review the technical aspect. Step into the mind of the reader, use the document from their perspective. Did you accomplish your goal of guiding them through the process effectively? 

If so, you’re good to send to your client! 

Expect to have a review cycle with your client. They’ll find things you might have missed. That’s okay! 

Take the feedback they give you with grace. You can always improve. 

Technical Writing Jobs You Can Try

There is so much work available for technical writers. This side hustle is the perfect gig if you’re looking for long-term work. This is true for both novice and advanced writers also. 

Here’s a short list of writing jobs available to try out: 

1. Standard Operating Procedure Writer

When new employees start, they are usually given a manual with procedures and policies. These documents help create guidelines for the new employee to follow when performing the job. 

Companies of all sizes need to have these documents created. Personally, I’ve found writing SOP’s to be a rewarding process for both myself and my team. These checklists help create autonomy with the team so they can follow it without needing to ask me questions all the time. 

2. Medical & Scientific Research Papers

You’ll be tasked with understanding the nuances of research and communicating it to the reader. These documents help the technical professionals because you’ll be providing clarity to their work. 

3. End User Documentation

I recently purchased a reMarkable 2. It came with a fun and helpful manual for getting started. A technical writer was tasked with creating this manual. 

That’s what end user documentation is. You’ll be the person responsible for writing the “how-to” for getting the product to work. 

Personally this is a favorite of mine because you’ll get access to a variety of products and services you would have never come across unless you did the technical writing.  

4. Case Study Writing

Case studies tend to be more marketing driven, but that doesn’t mean a technical writer can’t complete the job. In fact, having more knowledge about the details of a product can help you communicate the benefits clearly. 

This will drive more people to gain unique insights from the case study. 

These are the top pics for getting started with your technical writing side hustle! 

Executive Summary: How To Become A Technical Writer

There you have it. 

The complete guide on getting your technical writing business up and running. 

Hopefully this has given you some clarity and insight into the process of technical writing. It’s a fantastic side hustle idea for those trying to make a little extra income. 

Be sure to check out this post about the best side hustles if you’re interested in more ideas! 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *