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Salaries of Technical Writers in the United States

by Ron Kurtus (revised 21 March 2012)

According to a survey by the WritersUA group, the average 2011 U.S. salary for a technical writer is $78,614 per year. Other sources say about $60,000 per year.

The amount of money paid technical writers for their services in the United States varies considerably with location. In 2006, writers in Northern California top the list with an average of $95,000 per year, while writers in Utah were at the bottom at an average salary of around $44,000 per year.

The wages or earning of independent contractors varies widely according to area and amount of hours put in.

People interested in making technical communication as a career can use this information as a guide in for what to expect in this industry. Present writers can use the information to see where they stand in comparison to the norm.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Salaries

More women are technical writers that men, and they are also paid more than the men. According to WritersUA, women earned an average of $79,855, while men earned an average of $75,375 per year.

By years of experience

PatScale.com reports the median salaries by experience for the United States are:

Years

Hourly pay

Less than 1 year

$9 - $25

1 to 4 years

$12 - $29

5 to 9 years

$15 - $43

10 -19 years

$17 - $46

20 + years

$22 - $49

Independent contractors

Writers who are in business for themselves should be paid at a higher rate, since they must also pay for their own health insurance and benefits out of their wages, as well as paying extra business taxes. Many such independents establish themselves as a limited liability company (LLC) or as a corporation.

Other independents work through consulting agencies that "hire" them on a per-job basis. They often get health insurance and have their taxes deducted, but they usually get less money per hour of work.

The reason the mean yearly wage is higher for those who are temp agency employees, while the hourly rate is lower, is because temp workers have less down time than the true independent contractors. Another problem is that many contractors work less than full-time.

The range of hourly rates for independent contractor technical writers is between $15/hour to $60/hour, depending on experience, expertise, and area of the country.

The average hourly pay for an independent is $41/hour, which equates to $84,000 per year for full-time work for 50 weeks a year.

Difference in location

A major factor on wages is supply and demand, although a subtler factor concerning technical writing is the attitude toward technology and the value of writers.

Northern California is the home of Silicon Valley and thus has a large number of software and technology companies that need good technical writers. On the down side is that the cost of living is high, finding affordable housing is difficult, and commute times are long. Also, with the recent dot-com and technology downturn, jobs may not be as stable in that area.

The Boston area has many software companies and is booming in the high-tech industries. There is also a positive attitude toward technology people, as opposed to lower end states such as Wisconsin.

States near the bottom of the rung typically emphasize agriculture or heavy industry and often don't need or use writers. Companies that do use technical writers in those states have a greater supply of local writers than demand and thus do not need to pay very much compared to the rest of the nation.

Summary

Pay varies considerably according to location. Knowing the typical salaries in your area can help you negotiate a reasonable salary.


Be valuable to your customers


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

WritersUA Salary Survey - 2013

Pay Scale for Technical Writers - PayScale.com

Listing Per Writing Job Title - Indeed.com

Society for Technical Communication - Salary survey results only available to members

Technical Writing Resources

Books

Top-rated books on Technical Writing


Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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