A technical author, also known as a technical writer, pens a variety of materials used to impart technical knowledge and training. These materials include reference books, reports, software manuals, design specifications, user manuals, presentations and training materials. Technical authors may work for companies or offer their services on a self-employed basis through freelance work. Some may even start their own technical authoring companies and hire additional writers to offer services. To become a technical author, you'll usually need to have a college degree, be knowledgeable about technology and have excellent writing skills.
Unless you plan to start your own business or do freelance work that doesn't require a degree, you will likely need at least a bachelor's degree to become a technical author. Common choices include degrees in English, communications, technical communications, information technology and computer science. A degree that includes a combination of communications and computer classes is especially useful, because it provides a sufficient background in both areas. Those who opt for basic communications or English degrees may decide to obtain technology certifications to prove their technology knowledge. Although obtaining a degree is important if one wants to become a technical author, it's especially critical when you're just starting out in the field and lack experience.
Technical authors must possess excellent writing skills and know how to write their documentation to fit the intended audience. Although those who write books on complex topics may not need to simplify the material too much, those who write training materials need to be able to write for users who possess less experience. Other skills needed to become a technical author include fluency in office productivity software, experience with formatting documents and extensive knowledge on the technical topics in which they specialize. They'll also need to have basic editing skills, especially in cases when they're solely responsible for the final work.
Some technical writing jobs can require five or more years of experience, but that doesn't mean you can't become a technical author without experience. The numerous technology websites available online means those who are new to the field may find it easier to start working as a freelancer. By taking on various projects, you'll build your technical knowledge and improve your writing skills. This gives you material you can show employers when you apply for more advanced technical writing jobs. You also may even consider starting your own business after developing a solid base of freelance clients.