Career as a Technical author

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Tony Pope works for a company which provides services including authoring, content management, translation, desktop publishing and the printing of completed publications.

Can you describe your career as a Technical author?

I write instruction guides that describe how to use products. Some guides are quite straightforward, but others are not so simple. I recently worked on a guide for a CCTV system that involved highly technical information.

I'm also involved in desktop publishing (DTP). This may involve creating illustrations, or compiling a foreign language guide from translations.

What are your main responsibilities?

My job is to produce documentation that is accurate and written to a very high standard. This involves researching the product category and looking at competitors' products, including the variety and styles of publications they produce.

What hours do you work?

My normal working day is 9am to 5.30pm, although I may come in earlier or leave later depending on the project. I sometimes work weekends if there is a tight deadline.

What is your work environment like?

I work in an office alongside my colleagues. It's a relaxed, friendly office.

Who do you work with?

I work in a team of authors, illustrators and DTP specialists. Daily contact with project managers, clients and printing companies is also an essential part of the job. Occasionally, I attend client meetings with the publications manager, project manager or a member of the sales team.

What skills do you need for a career as a Technical author?

The most important practical skill you need is a good command of the English language. You need to understand who you are writing for, and then tailor the information so it is easy for the target audience to understand. An eye for detail is important too. Experience in authoring or DTP packages is an advantage, but they are easy to learn.

A sense of creativity is also useful – quite often, we're given a blank sheet of paper by the client and left to design a manual from scratch.

Why did you choose this type of work?

I've always been quite good at English, so it seemed a natural thing to do. I like the design aspect of it as well – creating something from the beginning is always satisfying.

What training have you had?

After school, I went on to do A levels. I also studied for a Degree in Communication, Authoring and Design at university. The course is tailor-made for people who want to enter the field of technical authoring and design.

What equipment do you use?

I use a wide range of computers across different operating systems. I also use a lot of software packages, which vary from one project to the next.

The course will appeal to those wishing to concentrate on the scientific approach and analysis of crime and criminal behaviour.

What do you like most about your job?

I love the variety. You never know what you are going to be documenting next.

What are the main challenges?

You have to be able to work to strict deadlines, so stress can be a factor. Once a manual goes to print then it is too late to rectify an error, so you have to make sure that it's spot on, every time.

Tony's route to his career as a Technical author

  • A levels.
  • Degree in Communication, Authoring and Design.

Tony's Technical author tips

  • Think about what you could write about. There are a lot of specialist areas out there, like engineering and software, so if you want to get a job at a software company get experience or qualifications in a programming language.
  • Any experience is always a bonus to employers.

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Salary of a Technical author

  • Typical starting salaries are generally between about £15,000 and £20,000 a year.
  • A senior technical author, or someone working in a highly specialised area, may earn up to £35,000 or more.
  • Income for freelance authors depends on the rates they charge and the number of projects they take on.
  • Hourly rates can vary from £20 to more than £40 an hour.

Career as a Technical author

  • There are no set entry requirements, but a good knowledge of English is essential.
  • Most technical authors have previous qualifications and experience in scientific, engineering, technical or commercial fields. Many have degrees.
  • Some universities and colleges offer courses in technical authorship. There is also a small number of postgraduate courses.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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