How to hire a technical writer

How to hire a technical writer

Why hire a technical writer?

In any business, a technical writer can enhance your communications, both printed and online, and make sure that they reflect your best thinking and best practices.

A skilled technical writer understands audience, both internal and external, and the way content and format work together to improve communication, productivity, and effectiveness for your staff and clients.

Technical writers’ deliverables range from business reports, user guides, engineering plans, proposals, and procedures to online help systems, websites, databases, mobile apps, videos, and multimedia products.

Assess your needs

Hiring a technical writer is the same as hiring any qualified professional. The first step is to assess your needs. For example, the job might require:

  • Skill in different writing styles such as marketing, business analysis, grant applications, or software documentation.
  • Basic or advanced knowledge of a specific industry, subject area, or software tool.
  • Proven ability to interview and acquire information from subject-matter experts.
  • A quick learner new to the field or an experienced specialist.
  • A writer/manager who can coordinate the work of others.
  • A permanent employee or a project-specific contractor.

Write your job ad

After you establish your requirements, you can write a job description.

If you need someone who can write for a specialized or technical audience, look for a candidate who is knowledgeable about a particular field or can learn new subjects quickly.

If your audience is entry-level, look for a writer who can explain complex information in simple terms that a lay person can understand.

If your job requires knowledge of specific software (such as MadCap Flare, DITA, or Adobe FrameMaker), say so, but don’t focus only on a candidate’s knowledge of tools. Look for a demonstrated ability to learn new applications.

Post your job ad

Start with our free job posting service to reach local STC members. 

Look up qualified candidates and post positions on popular job-oriented websites such as:

Interview candidates

A résumé and cover letter serve as important screening tools for any position, and they’re especially important for technical writers. They provide your first glimpse of the candidate’s ability to communicate clearly and effectively. We recommend weeding out any that contain errors or are unclear.

After you narrow down the list of applicants, ask the candidates to bring samples of their work to the interview. Discuss:

  • What was the candidate’s role in producing the document? Which parts were they responsible for?
  • Did they write it from scratch, update an older version, or merge drafts from several authors into a single document?
  • Which parts are they most proud of? What would they like to have done differently?
  • How much control did they have over the style and design of the document? Have they worked with a corporate style guide? Have they worked with editors and subject-matter experts?
  • What sorts of writing and subject areas do they most enjoy? Which are the most challenging?

If the candidate’s samples don’t give you a clear impression of their skills, try asking them to rewrite a few pages of one of your own company’s documents.

If you need someone with specialized knowledge, a technical vocabulary test can help determine the candidate’s level of expertise.

Negotiate salary

Depending on the writer’s education, experience, and technical background, salaries can range from $50,000 per year for a junior writer to more than $100,000 for a senior writer.

Contractor rates in the Lower Mainland can vary from $50 to $130 per hour or more, depending on the type and length of contract.

Ask an expert

Need more help? You might want to:

  • Hire a senior technical writer for a few hours to help you write your job posting and screen candidates.
  • Hire a writer/manager who can assess your needs, advise on planning a project, and train junior writers to carry out the work.

 

Parts of this article are based on a web page first published by STC Canada West Coast in June 2013.

 

 

Heather Sommerville is a senior technical writer and editor with over 20 years of experience delivering clear, concise writing for business and technical audiences. She is an STC Associate Fellow and has served in many volunteer positions with the STC Canada West Coast chapter.

2 comments:

Christine GrimardMarch 19, 2018 at 1:55 pmReply

Good article, Heather!

Heather SommervilleMarch 19, 2018 at 2:44 pmReply

Thanks, Christine!

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