What is Technical Writing?
Technical writing is the simplification of complex information into digestible media. Technical writers explain products, processes, services, research, policy, and more to reach specific target audiences. Their work ultimately helps businesses cut costs, improve efficiency, and increase customer satisfaction.
Technical writing begins with a competent technical writer. But becoming one is no small feat. A technical writer must be able to quickly pick up advanced material, have a working knowledge of the field in which they operate, and keep up with industry trends. On top of that, they need to be a precise, concise, research-based writer. Even further, it is critical to have an expert command of grammar, mechanics, and flow.
Who Exactly are Technical Writers?
Technical writers also need to understand people. Although the phrase “technical writer” may evoke an image of an isolated writer crunching information into dry manuals, this is a misrepresentation. Truly, their jobs require constant collaboration, communication, and the ability to consider information from many perspectives. A tech writer will need to work with subject matter experts (SMEs) to understand the technical information they are writing about. However, they will also need to anticipate the needs of their audience in a way that the SME may not. The tech writer needs to master the art of asking the right questions.
Crucially, the SME cannot replace a technical writer. A company may be tempted to let their SME write their own documents, as they are master of their subject matter. But they may not be masters of communication. A technical writer will know how to translate the SME’s knowledge into accessible, multimedia, logical, retrievable, documentation.
The goal of technical writing is to make sure the information you accumulate is and stays usable. Technical writing bridges knowledge gaps between current employees, new and old employees, sellers and consumers, researchers and readers, etc. Technical writing organizes information in a way that keeps your company’s projects on time and under budget, freeing up resources for development and testing. A technical writer’s job is to consider information with the big picture in mind.
How and Where are Technical Writers Used?
Technical writers are used in every field but are especially common in STEM, finance, information technology, marketing, and medicine. In each field, tech writing is used in various contexts. It would be impossible to make an exhaustive list, so let’s just cover the essentials.
Technical writers are most commonly recognized as creators of consumer resources like user manuals, FAQs, and product descriptions. While these services are vital for achieving and maintaining a good relationship with your consumer base, don’t let them outshine the other ways technical writing can come in handy.
For example, a company or organization may use a technical writer for journal articles, research, and whitepapers. After all, consumers, other businesses, and even other researchers all appreciate readability.
Many companies also benefit from a process documentation technical writer. That is, someone to record all the processes involved in the company’s workflow. Documentation allows companies and organizations to streamline and standardize their onboarding and training processes, interdepartmental communication, communication with suppliers, data management, and knowledge transfer systems.
It is especially important to keep consistent documentation as a company grows and the need for process optimization increases. For example, if your company begins working with ancillary companies, the stakes get higher. The processes become more complex and the regulations increase. A technical writer helps your business keep track of every system, making them navigable, improvable, and even automated.
Types of Technical Documentation
There are many types of technical documentation. Each type has a specific use and purpose. To give you an idea of the range of content, here is a short list of documents that Essential Data Corporation’s technical writers work with:
- Construction training manuals
- Consumer device manuals
- End-user manuals
- Equipment manuals
- Facility maintenance procedures
- Feasibility studies
- Functional specifications
- Heavy equipment manuals
- Installation manuals and guides
- Interactive electronic technical manuals (IETMs)
- ISO documentation
- Knowledge transfer plans
- Knowledge-based support
- Maintenance manuals
- Manufacturing machine documentation
- Medical and scientific writing
- Medical Device documentation
- Oil and gas procedures
- Online help (FAQs)
- Operations and maintenance (O&M) procedures
- Operations manuals
- Operator’s manuals
- Owner’s manual
- Pharmaceutical documentation
- Policy, process, and procedure (procedural documentation)
- Product documentation
- Product manuals
- Quick-reference guides
- Regulatory compliance documentation
- Safety procedures (OSHA)
- Security procedures
- Service manuals and procedures
- Skills gap documentation
- Software documentation
- Standard operating procedures (sops)
- Systems and programming documentation (API)
- Technical manuals
- Training materials
- User guides
- User manuals
- Whitepaper documentation
Why is Technical Writing Important?
Technical writing serves a vital role in almost every industry. By putting complex instructions, ideas, and terms into a form that people can understand, they can be a benefit to all. In this way, technical writing ensures people can figure out what otherwise confusing information actually means and make use of it. For instance, technical documents such as an instruction manual for a product or a written procedure are needed so that readers can understand how to use the product or perform the task in question. These documents provide a source of guidance that people can refer back to, rather than constantly needing to ask experts. This helps to save time, money, and resources.
In addition, by tailoring content to the audience and medium, technical writing ensures that the intended message gets across. Doing so also raises the chance of getting the attention and interest of the target audience. This would in turn make it more likely that said audience would consider what the content is telling them. In essence, if the target audience sees technical content that has been designed to specifically appeal to them, then they will most likely respond to it in the way the creator wants.
The Consequences of Not Having Technical Writing
The consequences of neglecting technical writing can range from fairly detrimental to severe. For instance, if a new product or project was presented to clients and stakeholders without technical writing, they would have no reliable way of understanding the complicated information related to it. This, in turn, could turn them off from investing in or supporting that project. In other cases, the absence of technical writing in written procedures could prevent workers from understanding how to do their jobs. In the worst possible cases, a lack of technical writing can be life-threatening. Certain products and equipment are dangerous when not used properly, which becomes much more likely without clear instructions.
What is the Purpose of Technical Writing?
The purpose of technical writing is to make information clear enough for readers to understand while retaining the important aspects. This means explaining or simplifying complex ideas, offering guidance, and answering any possible relevant questions. Technical writing is used to make sure readers know how a process needs to be done, how something should be used, or what a piece of information means.
Interviewing an SME
In order for technical writers to properly understand the topic they are writing about, they first need to gather information. While tech writers do conduct research before writing a document, there is some information that they need to consult an expert to obtain. They do this by interviewing a subject matter expert (SME) who is an authority on the subject in question. During the interview, the subject matter expert provides them with answers to their questions and additional insights on the topic. The tech writers then use the information they are given to develop understandable documentation that readers can act on.
Are Technical Writers Subject Matter Experts?
Technical writers can be subject matter experts as well, although not all are. To become a subject matter expert, a technical writer would need to gain a significant deal of experience, training, and understanding of their position and responsibilities, making them an authority in regards to writing, reinterpreting, and doing research for technical documents.
Technical writers can also become SMEs in other topics if they gain enough expertise and knowledge of a subject. Because tech writers often do extensive research on a topic before writing documentation about it, they can potentially learn enough about said topic over time to become an authority on it.
Having a tech writer who is also an SME can be a great advantage for an organization, as this would mean that said organization would have a highly skilled and experienced writer. With their greater experience, a tech writer SME could also provide a new perspective on matters related to technical writing. In addition, a tech writer who is an SME on another subject could potentially fill both roles when developing technical documentation on that subject. While such technical writers should not be solely relied on as SMEs, they can be very helpful alongside other SMEs.
Benefits of SME Technical Writers
A technical writer who is also a subject matter expert is a great asset to a business or organization. The benefits they provide include:
- They would have both the knowledge needed to effectively understand a topic and the skill to write clearly and thoroughly.
- A tech writer who is an SME on a particular subject can more easily keep up with other SMEs on that subject.
- A technical writer with the knowledge and experience of an SME could offer a new perspective on a topic.
- They could help bridge the gap between technical writers and SMEs, easing cooperation between them.
Drawbacks of SME Technical Writers
While there are many pros to employing a technical writer who is also an SME, there are also certain cons. These include:
- An organization that employs an SME technical writer might begin to expect them to fulfill the responsibilities of both. This would divide the SME technical writer’s attention and hinder their ability to do their actual job.
- Both of the ways for a technical writer to become a subject matter expert take a lot of time.
What are the 7 C’s of Technical Writing?
- Clarity: Technical writing should be clear and concise. It should communicate the intended message in a straightforward and easily understandable manner.
- Completeness: Technical writing should cover all necessary information, including all relevant details, facts, and data.
- Conciseness: Technical writing should be concise and avoid unnecessary words, phrases, or sentences.
- Consistency: Technical writing should be consistent in terms of formatting, style, tone, and language throughout the document.
- Correctness: Technical writing should be accurate, error-free, and adhere to the rules of grammar and spelling.
- Consideration: Technical writing should take into account the needs, interests, and background knowledge of the intended audience.
- Courtesy: Technical writing should be polite, respectful, and professional and should avoid offensive or derogatory language or tone.
What are the Most Commonly Requested Types of Technical Writing?
- User manuals and guides – technical documentation that explains how to use a product or system.
- Whitepapers – in-depth technical documents that explain a complex idea or concept.
- Business proposals – documents that detail a proposed plan or solution to a business problem.
- Technical reports – documents that provide information on a specific technical topic.
- Case studies – detailed analysis of a specific case or scenario, often used in marketing to showcase a product or service.
- Research papers – academic writing that presents findings from original research.
- Specifications – technical documentation that provides detailed information about a product, including dimensions, materials, and operating parameters.
- Training materials – instructional materials used to teach technical skills or concepts.
- Engineering documents – technical documentation used to design and develop products and systems.
- Standard operating procedures (SOPs) – written instructions that describe how to perform a specific task or activity.
- Software documentation – technical writing that explains how to install, configure, and use the software.
- Scientific articles – academic writing that presents research findings in the field of science.
There are several different styles of technical writing. Some of the most common styles are:
- Procedural writing: This style of technical writing is used to describe a series of steps or procedures to complete a task.
- Reference writing: This style of technical writing provides detailed information about a product or service and is often used in technical manuals or product documentation.
- Explanatory writing: This style of technical writing is used to explain complex concepts or processes clearly and concisely.
- Persuasive writing: This style of technical writing is used to convince readers to take a specific course of action or to adopt a particular viewpoint.
- Descriptive writing: This technical writing style provides detailed descriptions of products, processes, or systems.
- Comparative writing: This technical writing style compares different products or services and helps readers make informed decisions.
- Analytical writing: This style of technical writing is used to analyze and evaluate data, systems, or processes to identify problems and suggest solutions.
What is Traditional Technical Writing?
Traditional technical writing refers to a style of technical writing that has been in use for several decades. This style of technical writing is typically characterized by its focus on clarity, precision, accuracy, and the usefulness of a formal and structured writing style.
In traditional technical writing, the language is typically straightforward and concise, and the tone is often objective and impersonal. The writing style is generally based on conventions and rules, such as using passive voice, avoiding slang and jargon, and providing definitions for technical terms.
Traditional technical writing is often associated with industries such as engineering, science, and technology, where precise and accurate communication is critical. However, with the rise of digital communication and new forms of media, there has been an increasing trend towards more informal and conversational styles of technical writing.
Technical Writers are in Growing Demand
As the demand for technical writers grows, more and more people are becoming professional technical writers. They can work in a variety of fields such as technology or science, and generally, these types of fields will have a higher demand for technical writers to create step-by-step explanations or show how something works. They may write anything from instructional manuals and documents to help guides, and it is important to present the information in a way that is easily digestible for the reader, including readers who are not necessarily experts in the field, so the reader can apply that knowledge to support their purposes.
In addition to writing, technical writers may also need to consolidate and spread that information using the company’s communication channels.
Remote Work has Changed the Field
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were about 55,400 technical writing jobs in 2021, and in the next decade, the projected growth rate is about 6%, with an employment change of 3,100 jobs. The median income is $78,060 per year or $37.53 per hour, and typically a bachelor’s degree is required for these jobs. Most writers work full-time, but it is also possible to become a freelance technical writer and find projects online. Since the emergence of COVID-19 a few years ago, companies have increasingly shifted online, and working from home is more popular than ever.
There are also freelancing websites with projects that writers can work on. Sometimes, it will be cheaper for smaller businesses to freelance their projects instead of hiring full-time technical writers. They may be paid per assignment, and sometimes, assignments can be recurring depending on what the company needs. However, even though the writing can be done remotely, technical writers may need to interact with a variety of people working on the product, so they need to be excellent communicators, particularly within a team.
Technical Writers are Always Evolving
As writers continue to write, they will develop their portfolios, and their writing skills and technical knowledge will also greatly improve over time. While this type of work does have a learning curve, after a while, technical writers can become very familiar with their field. Some technical writers stay within a specific field when writing articles so narrowing their focus like this allows them to become proficient in their specialization. In doing this, technical writers can write consistently for a few companies and develop professional relationships. Because of the large variety of companies that need technical writers, it is possible to find a business that works with something the writer is familiar with or has professional knowledge about.
Once they are knowledgeable in a certain technical field, it will become easier to develop transferable skills and enter into other related fields. In this way, they can become knowledgeable on a variety of subjects. The most common employers of technical writers include scientific and technical services, manufacturing, administrative and support services, and publishing industries. They can be concentrated in geographic areas with prominent technological or research companies; for example, California.
Multimedia is a Powerful Tool for Technical Documentation
In their writing, technical writers will first need to figure out what the users of technical documentation are using it for so they can add specificity to their writing, and edit writings from other writers. There may even be supporting or supplemental content for the product that they need to write or edit. They often incorporate visuals such as graphs, photos, illustrations, or even animations if possible to aid the reader. One very important factor that is often overlooked is the medium that is used to convey information.
Though people may initially imagine technical writers only work on drafting documents, sometimes, information is better conveyed over a video or flowchart. If something is better shown than explained, writing words may not always be the solution. Additionally, if the business has a website or any social media platforms, it is possible the technical writer could be in charge of making sure their content is consistent and standard across the board. This avoids confusion and makes sure the customer is not receiving conflicting information from the company. Sometimes, depending on the needs of the company, the technical writer can take on the very large role of communication between the company and the consumer, as they work closely with both parties. They play an integral part in communication throughout the business.
Technical Writers Have a Pulse on UX
Technical writers can also become very familiar with the user’s experience with the product, and work with designers and developers to improve it. By taking into account product feedback, they can suggest improvements and revise their content to be more informative or clear up any points of confusion. They also need to regularly update the document if there are changes in the product or how it is optimally used. Thus, this job is very important not just in instructing the user, but improving the product and the user’s experience with it through design changes as well.
In this way, their job is tied to customer support, because at times part of their responsibility is to listen to the customer and alter their writing if necessary, or go to product designers or people more directly in charge of the product if a large change is needed. They may work with people specializing in product liability or customer service after the product is released. User feedback is a crucial part of any business because in addition to making sure the product is as optimal as it can be, making sure the customer feels heard can help build loyalty and gain more customers through word of mouth.
No Good Job is One Done Alone – For Technical Writers, Collaboration is Key
With all their responsibilities, technical writers will often need to work with technical support specialists, software developers, or hardware engineers to make sure everyone working on one project is on the same page and has the same information. They should be familiar with specialized terms, be able to talk effectively with people of varying positions and roles and be able to work within a team. Technical writers play a key role in a team of product designers, and their proximity to consumers can allow them to anticipate their needs.
They may also assist in conducting surveys or studies that look at the product’s usability. Technical writers may even help write grant proposals for institutions. Ultimately, a majority of their work is done digitally as nowadays, a lot of information is spread through social media online, so writers should be proficient with many digital applications as well as some forms of content creation.
Transferable Skills Make a Move into Technical Writing Easier
There is also no one way to become a professional technical writer: many have at least a bachelor’s degree in English literature, journalism, communications, or some variation of these fields, but it is also helpful if the writer has knowledge relating to the technical field they are writing about, for example, computer science or engineering. Because there is a large concentration in scientific, technological, or computer informational fields, technical writers would benefit from experience in these areas as well. It would be extremely helpful to have a general understanding of adjacent fields to better communicate specific directions.
Some other jobs with comparable duties include computer engineers or programmers who test computer systems or write code that allows these components to function properly. Other jobs include authors and editors who write, review, and revise content, language interpreters and translators, and public relations workers who try to create and enhance the public image of a company or business. Experience in these areas can help when starting a new job as a technical writer, and provide insight into the topics they may be writing about.
Oftentimes, previous experience with research assistants or specialists in a technical field is highly beneficial as they can develop skills in communicating within this field; they can then transition into technical writing as they already have expertise in the field. Having work experience in a related job provides transferrable skills that can be very beneficial as a technical writer.
They may begin their career shadowing more experienced writers and talking with specialists before working on their own projects, or if they have sufficient experience, they can start working on projects immediately. Within a company, there will also be many people designing and developing the product, so they can access people who know about the topics they are writing about.
What Does it Take to be a Technical Writer?
Technical writers must be able to first have the technical skills to understand complicated information. Further, it is important to think critically and simplify complicated technical information for readers who do not share the same technical background. They must also be detail-oriented because they are creating directions for readers to follow. Thus, each step must be precise. They should work well within a team as there are many steps to produce the project or service they are a part of, with many different members working at each step—they should be able to communicate directly and work together with their teammates. And finally, it goes without saying that they should have excellent writing abilities to clearly articulate step-by-step directions.
Technical writing is different from other forms of writing in that it is not a narrative or personal, but rather descriptive and instructional. If they come from different writing backgrounds, technical writers may need to adapt to this new style of writing. On-the-job training or working with other writers can help cultivate this skill, and it is typically easier to transition to this style, rather than from it. Simply reading other technical documents will provide a good idea of what is expected of a technical writer.
Certifications for Technical Writers
Some places offer certification for technical writers, like the Society of Technical Communication and the American Medical Writers Association (this one is more specifically for medical writing). A professional certification can increase career opportunities by proving the writer has the fundamental skills and knowledge of their field. It shows they maintain standards of practice and are committed to technical writing. It adds a level of professionalism and this is excellent for people who are looking to specialize more in communication.
These certifications prove that the writer has the credentials and is evidence that they are serious about their career, making employers more willing to hire those with certification. It can also improve the salary for the writer.
There can be different levels of certification, and writers are tested on the specific skill sets of that level. The certification measures the writer’s ability to show they understand the concepts of that field. As they further develop their knowledge and abilities, they can test at different levels. Some associations may require application materials, which can include a registration or application fee for these credentials.
These programs help to establish uniform performance standards across the board and work to check that candidates will be able to meet their employers’ expectations. This also reduces risk for employers because they won’t need to spend as much time training their technical writers or making sure they won’t make an error that can have a widespread effect and reflect negatively on the company as a whole.
Adaptability is the Name of the Game
Occasionally, products are changed at the last minute. When this happens, technical writers need to be able to update all their documentation to reflect the changes before the publication deadline. Often, technical writing allows for more flexible hours. However, some deadlines may necessitate long hours, including late evenings or even weekends. The documentation created also needs to be consistent throughout, so factors like layout, tone, and even verb tense need to be paid attention to.
This can get tricky when the document becomes long or if multiple writers are working on it, especially if they are updated over a long period. In these cases, having a style guide or specific formatting guidelines can help make sure the entire document is coherent and clear.
Because things are constantly being added or removed from the document, the structure can become disorganized and hard to follow. It is important that the writer has an outline or a strong understanding of the structure of the documentation so it still makes sense after rounds of edits. It also helps to get feedback on the writing. Often, it is easier for an outsider to identify points of confusion or places that could be elaborated on.
Because technical writers are often well-versed in technical knowledge, it can become easy to forget what is easily accessible or common knowledge and what an ordinary user would understand. As a result, technical writers have the difficult task of imagining the process through a novice’s point of view and making sure their directions are comprehensible to these people. They also need to anticipate common mistakes people may make and preemptively warn against them.
Consumer Data is Key
One thing that can make this job difficult is the fact that technical writers don’t always have information about their customer base. If they don’t know the demographics of their audience, it may be difficult to cater to consumer needs while writing. One thing the business can do is conduct user surveys or interviews to find out more about the people using the product or service. Working with customer service is also important to address the most frequently asked questions. By incorporating these into their writing, technical writers can efficiently convey information customers need to improve their experience with the product or service.
In a Changing Business Landscape, Technical Writers are More Important than Ever Before
In our modernizing world, more and more work is being moved online, and technology is constantly developing and innovating. As a result, technical writers have become more valuable. There is a high demand for those who can explain technical information well and in an easy-to-understand format. A variety of documents, from a report, a brief, a manual, or even an email, can fall into technical writing. Through these documents, technical writers describe technical processes. This skill can provide a lot of flexibility in work schedules and allows the writer to improve with more practice. As such, demand for this kind of work is projected to increase, and it is worth considering getting into.
Essential Data’s Technical Writers are Here to Help
Nationwide, Essential Data Corporation is a leader in providing high-quality technical writing and documentation services. We have technical writers with experience across multiple industries who can provide writing services. Essential Data will work with our clients to understand their specific goals and obstacles, and then pick the ideal approach and consultant for that project. Essential Data is a cost-effective writing service that can provide anywhere from just a single technical writer to a team. We tailor each approach depending on the client’s needs and the quantity of technical documentation necessary.
We also have Engagement Managers that clients can work with at no additional cost. These managers are located in 30 different local offices, so it becomes very convenient to set up a meeting. Our company has been featured in national as well as international publications. Furthermore, we have over 40 years of experience with more than 500 clients.
Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project, or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients’ work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or email@example.com