While virtually every career requires good communication skills, those who truly excel at these skills may want to explore technical communication as a career path. While both science journalists and technical writers create information about technical topics, the intended audiences differ. Science journalists take complex technical information and make is accessible for a lay audience (i.e. an audience that has no special or expert knowledge), while technical writers create documents to be read by other technical people. Technical editors work with the authors to make sure the subject, style, and level of detail are appropriate for the intended audience.
Although written communication skills are needed in every industry and work sector, technical writers are concentrated in information technology, scientific, and technical companies. Significant amounts of information are now being delivered electronically, which often involves integrating text, graphics, animation, and databases. A very small percentage of technical communicators are illustrators who create images to go along with the explanatory text or translators who convert documents into other languages.
Typical Job Duties
- Writing about new technological developments for popular science magazines.
- Creating briefing documents for a congressperson regarding current issues.
- Identifying and soliciting authors, commissioning publications, enforcing deadlines, assigning reviewers, editing for style and format, and managing the publication process.
- 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.
- Excellent written communication skills, including the ability to write efficiently and effectively and to understand the needs of diverse audiences.
- Interest in scientific and technical areas and the ability to learn new fields quickly and independently.
- Good oral communication skills to interview subject matter experts and extract the required information.
- Teamwork skills to coordinate with designers, writers, editors, illustrators, subject matter experts, project managers, and user representatives.
- Familiarity with a wide variety of tools, including different types of word processing programs, to provide content in the manner most appropriate for the intended audience.
Writing and editing are very versatile skills that are needed in every industry and every type of business, so moving between companies is possible. Leaving the chemistry bench for a career in communications is a decision that must be considered carefully, since in most cases it means not going back. Once you leave research, your technical skills and knowledge very quickly get out of date. Instrumentation changes, new methods are developed, and typically, but once you’ve been away from the bench longer than a year it is very hard to get hired back.
Advancement in technical communication generally means taking responsibility for bigger pieces of more complex projects, supervising other writers, and overseeing company-wide documentation policies and procedures. Many technical communicators freelance at the end of their careers as a way to maintain some income while gradually transitioning to retirement.
Original content at acs.org