Technical writers are extremely valuable. They are a triple threat: an engineering technical writer, for example, will be knowledgeable about engineering, writing, and information simplification. What’s more, demand is steady. Technical writing as a field is expected to grow 6 percent between 2021 and 2031. It’s more important than ever to understand what technical writing skills are.
What Are Common Technical Writing Skills?
Technical writing is often confused with copy writing. The two overlap — a copywriter and a tech writer might both contribute to whitepapers. Still, technical writing will typically require a different skill set.
We’ve mentioned that, in addition to being a clear, engaging writer, a tech writer needs to have a working knowledge of the industry they’re writing for and a knack for repackaging complex information into digestible, readable text. They need to know how best to draw information from subject matter experts (SMEs) and how to predict the needs of their audience.
A technical writer is versatile by nature. They must be able to learn new subjects, programs, and business brands quickly. Because it requires a confluence of skills, many people arrive at tech writing through different paths. Tech writers do not need a specific background to be successful, but an education in journalism, communications, English, engineering, or computer science is ideal. They may also seek out classes or programs for technical writing.
Regardless, however they go about becoming a technical writer, they will need to acquire certain skills.
Technical Writing Skills
Tech writers, first and foremost, need a solid foundation in writing. They must be masters of:
- Spelling, punctuation, and grammar conventions
- A variety of style guides
- Word choice
- Active voice
- Varying sentence structure and length
- Varying paragraph length
- Systematic organization, transitions, and flow
Good word choice, in particular, is key in technical writing. Words need to be easily understandable without sacrificing technical accuracy. The goal is to strike a balance between technical, authoritative, approachable, and engaging. For each project, the writer should tailor their language according to their audience.
Organization and flow are equally vital. A project can be ruined if it’s not navigable, or if the structure doesn’t make sense. Simple syntax and short sentences are ideal.
Also, manuals, public health information, and other widely circulated texts may be localized or translated down the line. Because of this, tech writers need to make sure their writing is translation-friendly. That is, they should use unambiguous words and stay away from colloquialisms and figurative language.
Above all, a tech writer needs to be consistent. Whatever style, register, and layout they choose for a project — it needs to be present throughout the project.
A technical writer shouldn’t be afraid to give their material a little flair. Branding imagery, charts, colors, and formatting draw the eye and create a flow across the page. Many consumers will consult a resource seeking a single piece of information. Visual cues like colors, images, and section breaks allow the consumer to quickly find what they’re looking for.
Tech writers need to have a foot in their industry. They do not have to be SMEs to be successful, but they do need to be able to speak the industry language the SME speaks.
A tech writer can’t simply rely on their prior knowledge, though. They have to learn constantly, both from SMEs and independently. To keep up with industry trends, tech writers keep tabs on the news, blogs, research, podcasts, etc. Tech writers, more than anything, are expert learners.
Research is at the core of all technical writing. A tech writer will ideally have prior research experience. On the job, they base their writing on SMEs and other sources. Off the job, they research independently to stay aware of industry ongoings. Technical writers will usually go into a project unfamiliar with the minutia of the company’s products or services. It’s their job to learn quickly, thoroughly, and accurately.
To accomplish this, tech writers must be able to evaluate sources for credibility, fact-check meticulously, and proofread. They can use programs to help streamline the process, but ultimately the human eye is the final arbiter.
Communication and Teamwork Skills
It’s helpful to be a people person in any field — employers are 73.4% more likely to hire people with great communication skills.
However, tech writers, in particular, have to communicate a lot with SMEs, technical documentation teams, and other departments.
Fluency with Technical Writing Tools
As technology progresses, the programs for tech writing have increased. It’s a tech writer’s job to be familiar with these programs. Microsoft Suite, Adobe Suite, Google Workspace, and Grammarly are great places to start. Screen capturing, file manipulation, and video and image editing are also useful.
Writing tools are great time-savers, but a tech writer should have a few shortcut strategies of their own. Any writer will have to contend with large workloads, and tech writers are no exception. To maximize efficiency, technical writers use single sourcing — they reuse the same text for multiple projects.
For example, a tech writer can use the same branding imagery for two products from the same company. If the products are similar, the same text can be used to describe their overlapping features. For ease of use, technology standardizes many of its features. A tech writer should likewise standardize pieces of text wherever they can.
Why sociology, you may ask? A good tech writer will always put themselves in the shoes of the end-user to determine how to best deliver information to them. For instance, delivering information to an elementary teacher will differ from the way you deliver information to an IT specialist.
Critical thinking is useful in all fields, but the subjectivity and versatility of technical writing make it especially important in this field. A tech writer has to make judgment calls when including, omitting, formatting, and delivering information. A writer’s critical thinking will reflect the breadth of their experience.
Web Design Basics
While not always required, businesses appreciate basic coding skills, as much of technical writing is hosted online. HTML allows tech writers to add, create, and format text. CSS allows them to design and style projects using color, animations, etc. Although software tools like Elementor and Squarespace can take a writer far, proficient coding skills will take them farther.
The 80/20 Rule
Every industry has its own version, if not multiple versions, of the 80/20 rule. The rule originated in economics when Vilfredo Pareto observed that 20% of Italy’s population owned 80% of its land. Then, it became generalized to mean that 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.
In technical writing, the 80-20 rule can mean a few things. Firstly, 80% of a readership will use only 20% of the resource. With this in mind, it becomes even more important for a technical writer to be strategic when reducing a complex subject into a usable resource. The tech writer needs to be able to identify what information readers gravitate toward.
Secondly, technical writing is 20% writing and 80% everything else: research, refining, consultation, editing, and testing. The first draft is the least consequential part of the process.
Does Your Business Need A Technical Writer?
A tech writer has a lot to offer, and can bring critical experience and skills to the table. But are they a good fit for your business? Let’s summarize technical writing with the following four services they provide:
Technical Writing Provides Accessible Informational Resources
If you need to condense, organize or simplify information, technical writers are for you. Every business needs to keep documentation and benefit from quality consumer resources. A technical writer will procure that text for you, and ensure that it can be used with ease.
Technical Writing Can Better Target Your Audience
Whether your audience is consumers, other businesses, or members of your own company, a technical writer will know how to best communicate to your intended audience. If your business wants to target an audience with more precision, look for a technical writer.
Technical Writing Solves Problems You Don’t Notice
Technical writers are a great external source of feedback on your material. Because their job is to understand and anticipate user needs, they will include information your SMEs may overlook or present information in ways you may not. They will bring fresh perspectives to your business, engaging a wider audience and boosting your business success.
Technical Writing Helps Make Your Business Cohesive
Technical writers can help structure and organize your process, policy, and data documentation while bridging communication gaps within business. If your business feels disorganized or inefficient, a tech writer could be an asset to you. Even if you feel that things are running smoothly, there is always room for improvement!
How Essential Data Corporation Can Help
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 to get started.