7 In-Demand Technical Writing Niches Different Types of Tech Writing Roles Have Mushroomed as the Field Has Matured
7 In-Demand Technical Writing Niches Different Types of Tech Writing Roles Have Mushroomed as the Field Has Matured

During the tech boom of the 1990s, technical writing was primarily associated with the software manuals and “help” content that computer users relied on. Many technical writers worked at large tech firms.

Fast-forward three decades, and the technical writing field has come of age. From industries as disparate as IT, insurance, health care and aerospace, tech writers are working on diverse types of content.

Read on to learn about some of the 7 in-demand technical writing niches today — and the UW Professional & Continuing Education programs that can help prepare you for these specialties.

1. User Manuals and Guides

The most traditional technical writing role is still a common one in the field. Most big-ticket products — such as appliances, cars, and medical and tech devices — come with a user guide or other documentation that explains different features, restrictions, warranty info and more.

A trained technical writer is a key player in producing these materials. They’re responsible for consulting with subject matter experts, collecting all relevant information and compiling it into a clear and readable form.

“With user guide content, the technical writer’s goal is to enable someone to perform some action quickly, accurately and safely,” says Carl Chatfield, an instructor for the UW Certificate in Professional Technical Writing.

2. Proposals/RFPs

Large organizations (especially governmental bodies) must produce project proposals, often to solicit bids from interested contractors — commonly known as RFPs (requests for proposal).

These documents follow specific formats and contain detailed information about the project requirements. They also need to reflect the project’s strategic and business objectives. Technical writers are often heavily involved in producing RFPs and similar proposal documents.

“Across nonprofit, government and business contexts, proposal and grant writing are a big focus of technical writers,” says Chatfield. “In addition, a lot of technical writing is done under contracts won by successful proposals.”

3. How-to and Instructional Content

One of the major categories of technical writing content is instructional materials (often labeled “Howto” in industry shorthand). This kind of content provides step-by-step explanations of a task or a process. Repair manuals, onboarding guides and workplace training documentation are some examples.

How-to and instructional materials have also increasingly moved to video (often through platforms such as YouTube). Technical writers specializing in this content must also understand script development and the different aspects of pre- and post-production for quality instructional videos. The UW Certificate in Professional Technical Writing includes working with various kinds of instructional videos.

“You learn how to apply the optimal type of technical video to a given instructional problem, explore captions and transcripts — including accessibility issues — and gain exposure to commonly used video tools,” Chatfield explains.

4. Regulatory Writing

Our program allows students to access and practice writing excerpts of the actual kinds of regulatory documents used in the field today.

Amber Carr, instructor for the UW Specialization in Regulatory Medical Writing
Industries such as medicine and aerospace are highly regulated, and their products require extensive documentation that government agencies review before a product can be approved. This type of technical writing demands specific knowledge of the industry or field.

For this reason, UW Professional & Continuing Education developed a UW Specialization in Regulatory Medical Writing, which focuses on the regulatory writing involved in the pharmaceuticals industry. Every drug developed by this industry must be submitted to a regulatory body (such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration or FDA) for testing and approval, and a regulatory writer must generate the complex documentation required for this process.

“Our program allows students to access and practice writing excerpts of the actual kinds of regulatory documents used in the field today,” says Amber Carr, a medical writer who serves as an instructor for the specialization. “They’ll emerge from the course with in-depth knowledge about these kinds of documents — how to prepare them, how to organize them, and how specific regulatory requirements dictate the format and content.”

5. White Papers

A white paper is a report written to inform readers about a complex issue or problem, and often to present possible solutions. Government agencies and departments, nongovernmental organizations and large businesses commonly issue these kinds of documents.

Technical writers often generate white papers and other business and government reports. Businesses can also convert these reports into presentations for conferences or sales pitches.

6. API Documentation

One of the most specialized (and rapidly growing) niches in the technical writing field is API documentation. An API (common shorthand for “application programming interface”) connects one piece of software to another. Software developers rely on APIs to enable their applications to run properly, and on accurate documentation to understand how a particular API works.

Tech writers with the right experience and knowledge of software development can produce effective API documentation. The new UW Specialization in API Documentation teaches these skills over 14 weeks and enables students to develop their own API documentation portfolio.

“What companies have started recognizing, over the last five years or so, is that good documentation plays a critical factor in the success of their API,” says Robert Watson, instructor for the specialization and an experienced technical writer. “So that’s why we created the specialization, to meet that growing need for trained API documentation writers.”

7. UX Writing

User experience (UX) writing is a form of tech writing that ensures an app or website is intuitive and easy to navigate. UX writers work closely with researchers and designers to translate business and customer goals into simple steps that make accomplishing those goals easier.

Because this type of content is closely related to design thinking, it requires a specific background. The UW Foundations of UX Writing course teaches the writing skills that are in demand in this field — and others.

“The skills involved in UX writing are useful in many technical writing contexts,” says Chatfield. “If you learn good UX writing practices, you can apply them to any short-form technical content, such as infographics or job aids [task-specific workplace instructional content].” 

Breaking Into the Field

If you’re interested in breaking into or advancing in the technical writing field, UW Professional & Continuing Education has several programs that can prepare you for these roles.

Learn More

Want to learn more about UWPCE programs for writers and editors that can help you switch fields or advance your career? Check out all our offerings.

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

Author David Hirning

David Hirning

David Hirning is an accomplished writer and editor with extensive experience in both tech and higher education. He began his career in journalism, then spent over a decade as an editor at Microsoft, where he worked on Encarta Encyclopedia and related reference products.

David worked for six years as a full-time writer and content manager at UW Professional & Continuing Education. He also operated his own editorial consulting business, with stints at leading companies like Amazon and Expedia, and taught English for two years in Costa Rica.

David has served as an instructor for the UW Certificate in Editing program and as a teaching assistant for the UW Certificate in Storytelling & Content Strategy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University and a Certificate in Literary Fiction from the UW.

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