If you prefer discussing and explaining science to others more than performing it, technical communication may be the career path for you.
Typical Job Functions
While both science journalists and technical writers both create information about technical topics, the intended audiences differ.
- Science journalists take complex technical information and make it accessible to audiences with no expert knowledge.
- Technical writers create documents to be read by other technical people.
Technical communications positions are concentrated in information technology, scientific, and technical companies. In addition to writing, jobs found in this field include:
- Technical editing - Working with the authors to make sure the subject, style, and level of detail are appropriate for the intended audience
- Technical illustrating - Creating images to go along with the explanatory text
- Technical translating - Converting documents into other languages
Technical communicators have to stay up-to-date on major scientific and technical developments. With so much information being delivered electronically, they have to be able to integrate text, graphics, and animation, and be able to work with databases.
Specific job duties may include:
- Attending science and technology conferences to report on discoveries presented there
- Writing articles about new technological developments (e.g., for a science magazine)
- Writing issue briefs (e.g., for a congressperson)
- Editing and assembling grant proposals, journal articles, technical reports, instruction manuals, and other scientific documents
- Developing press releases and marketing materials for technical products, programs, and services
- Creating standard operating procedures and help documents for industry
Technical communicators spend most of their time alone in an office, but they occasionally travel to laboratories, conferences, production plants, or other places where scientists work. Many technical writers are self-employed, providing services for private companies, government agencies, and/or professional societies on specific projects.
Writing and editing are versatile skills that are needed in every type of business; transitioning from one company to another is not as difficult as it can be in other career fields.
Advancement in technical communication generally means:
- Taking responsibility for bigger, more complex projects
- Supervising other writers
- Crafting and overseeing company-wide documentation policies and procedures
Many technical communicators freelance at the end of their careers to gradually transition to retirement.
Technical communicators should have at least a bachelor’s degree in a science or engineering discipline. Undergraduate courses in science writing and journalism are helpful, and some employers prefer a degree in journalism, English, or communications. A graduate degree is usually not necessary, though it may lend you credibility with some types of employers.
The more experience you can get with writing and editing, the better. For any internship, summer job, or organization you’re a part of:
- Volunteer/nominate yourself to write articles and blogs
- Edit newsletters
- Write job manuals, program announcements, lab instructions, etc.
- Remember to keep copies of everything you work on for your professional portfolio, including before-and-after versions of documents, webpages, etc.