A technical author prepares manuals and other documents for users of products and systems. Subjects covered can include scientific and technological, chemical, medical and pharmaceutical, business and commercial systems, and products or equipment for domestic use. They usually specialise in one particular field.
You could be:
liaising with developers and managers to get an understanding of the technical aspects of the product or service
researching the topic, analysing the needs of the user and writing documents to suit the target audience
working with illustrators, photographers and designers
setting out the text ready for publication, using a word processing or desktop publishing package
liaising with printing and translation companies
presenting information in a range of formats, such as leaflets, manuals and DVDs
using authoring software to create online help manuals, tutorials and reference guides
checking, updating and re-writing existing documents
checking the proof copy before it goes to print.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary depending on:
where you work
the size of the company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
The starting salary for technical authors is around £20,000 a year. With experience this can rise to between £25,000 and £45,000 a year or more.
Freelance rates are usually in the region of £18 to £40 an hour.
You may earn more as a freelance or consultant but you will have overheads to pay.
You will usually be based in an office, working regular hours.
If you are freelance, you might work alone from home but visit your clients as necessary.
You may often have to work to tight deadlines involving evening and weekend work.
Many entrants have a degree (SCQF Level 9-10), HND (SCQF Level 8) or HNC (SCQF Level 7) in a scientific, computing or engineering discipline, or other relevant subject, such as communication studies or journalism.
Entry to a degree course requires 4-5 Highers and some subjects at National 5, normally including a pass in English. HNDs and HNCs require 1-3 Highers plus some subjects at National 5.
Entrants without a degree usually have experience in a relevant field.
What Does it Take?
You need to have:
an analytical approach
an accurate and methodical approach
specialist or wide knowledge of your subject area
the necessary self-discipline to work alone
good IT skills and knowledge of authoring software.
You need to be able to:
work to deadlines
simplify language and explain technical terms
write in different styles
work alone and in a team with other professionals.
Most entrants have relevant experience or qualifications, and training is usually on the job.
The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC) lists accredited training courses on their website.
There are limited opportunities for promotion, except occasionally to editorial and managerial positions within the publication departments of big companies.
Some of the work is freelance and part time.
There may be opportunities to move into publishing, specialising in the fields of science or technology.
Technical writers are employed by organisations in a range of sectors, including central government, defence, finance, information technology, manufacturing and medicine.