Freelance technical writing is something that initially sounds as complicated and hard to understand. Even the aspiring freelance writers who do not essentially have a technical background shy away from it. But, the true goal of technical writing should be completely the opposite.
As Writer Access puts it, part of the problem lies in the fact that “technical writing is typically very formal, includes facts and figures, and is written from a very matter-of-fact point of view. Avoiding fluff, personal opinions, and keeping the article unbiased are the keys to writing a successful technical article.”
Still, that is not its. main point and purpose.”The purpose of a technical article is to take something complicated and break it down into easy to understand terms that will help the reader better understand the subject.” Or, in more detail, “technical writing is any written form of content that communicates about technical or specialized topics, usually providing instructions about how to do something or use something. It’s about breaking down complex information into user-friendly language that readers can easily understand, usually via web pages or helpful documents.” (Constant Content)
Many businesses and specialized companies that do not directly deal with some form of technology have their own writers. These writers handle all their writing needs, from public relations and designated web pages to reports and white papers. But, as Kolabtree notes, “the majority of small businesses, startups, or mid-size engineering, manufacturing and high-technology companies do not have a technical writer in-house. However, luckily for them, freelance technical writing is a rapidly growing profession, allowing easy access to technical expertise. Working with a freelance technical writer can give you the flexibility to hire talent as and when needed, without compromising on quality.”
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The reasons behind freelance technical writing
Many technically-oriented businesses realize this need to hire freelance technical writers. After all, it is their goal to be understood more widely. That could be a key to their success in the marketplace. That is why “technical freelance writers are in high demand because they are needed in almost every industry.” (Writer Access – above)
“According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for technical writers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, due to the continued increase in web-based and technical products.” (Constant Content above)
The first question that pops up here is – what does technical involve? Career Builder gives a few examples:
“Customer support content, such as product manuals and online user guides, helps customers effectively use a company’s technical products. Technical writers create the content you refer to when you need help navigating a new Facebook feature or installing a particular piece of software on your computer. Technical writers can also write instructions for operating hardware, such as everyday appliances.”
On the other hand, quite a number of tech companies themselves need technical writing for their internal purposes. “Professional and employee guides enable workers within a company to understand the technical concepts and procedures they need to do their jobs.”
But it is not just, say, IT companies that need technical writing. “Colleges, government agencies, industrial manufacturers, financial companies, broadcasters, and medical practices all require strong technical writing.” (Constant Content)
Kolabtree (above), lists the following reasons why any given company should hire a freelance technical writer:
- clarity of language;
- value for money;
- expert formatting;
- reductions in support costs;
- quick service.
More on the reasons for freelance technical writing
So what lies behind the above five reasons?
Clarity of language – One of the key qualities of a freelance technical writer should be “ability to explain complex ideas in a simple way. Many technical writers specialize in specific topics, such as medical writing or product user manual writing. These kinds of documents require the best possible clarity, and the cost of miscommunication is very high.”
Value for money – Freelance technical writers are usually experts in a specific field. To come up with a high-quality written document they need quite a few hours of research, compiling information, writing, editing, reviewing, and formatting. “Working with an expert technical writer can save you precious time and money.”
Here, it is good to note that too many companies the first thought would be to reach out to a specialized writing agency. As Kolabtree notes, agency writers can be more expensive and are rarely available to work on one-off tasks. “Experienced technical writers have the professional skills to simplify tangled ideas, procedures, and transfer knowledge to a broad diverse audiences, reading levels, and comprehension levels.”
Expert formatting – Technical documents in many cases include a lot of facts and figures, tables, and presentation images. That is why technical documents often need more complex formatting. A freelance technical writer usually has solid experience with such formatting.”Formatting technical documents can be a time-consuming and painful process, especially when you are short on resources.”
“Documentation isn’t solely about assisting customers, but it’s also an integral piece of your brand. An attractive and clear manual tells users that they can have faith in you and your expertise.”
Reduction in support costs – “Technical writers are trained to think of the task from the audience/user’s point of view. In product companies, technical writers can even help save support costs by designing well-illustrated manuals, giving customers less reason to call and distract your support staff.
Quick service – Technical writing experts are adept at picking out the main value propositions of a product or breaking down complex data into the most useful, meaningful information.
What are the characteristics of good technical writing?
Of, course, the easy answer to the above question would be – characteristics of anyone who is good at something. (Clear Voice). “Certainly the ability to tell a story, but also to grasp technical details and know how to use them with control, to outline the story without making it too complicated for a given audience. “
Timeliness is yet another essential characteristic. Also, all tech writers should also keep in touch with the clients enough to warn in advance if there’s a developing problem. “You also want the writer to be good at dealing with people, and understanding of how corporate work often goes.”
Of course, freelancers try to heave a steady flow of work. For technical writers that often means that they try to specialize in more than one field. But, at some point, they have to discern, what is beyond the limits of their knowledge and grasp. They have to be sure that they can handle a writing project properly and within the time limits. They can learn a new subject in their spare time.
Being objective in their approach with every single new text is also essential. They should be “focusing solely on factual information that will benefit the reader, as well as educate the reader on the subject.” (Writer Access)
Constant Content (above) breaks down best practices of freelance writers in the following manner:
- Prepare well;
- Focus on the reader;
- Being clear and concise;
- Strengthen the structure;
- Balance text with visuals;
- Careful editing;
- Use templates;
- Constant skills development;
- “Be humble”.
Freelance technical writing characteristics breakdown
Prepare well – Experienced writers in any field would say that good preparation of any project is 70% of the job. With technical writing, it is a paramount element. To that effect, the client should provide even the most minuscule details that could help. Also, their communication channels should be open throughout the project. For his part, the writer should do as extensive research as possible. While with some writing inspiration could do the job, but, with technical writing mapping out the project in advance is often essential.
Focus on the reader – The writer should “never lose sight of the target audience. The content should answer all potential questions the reader may have, and it should be easy to read and navigate.” The fact is that the composition of the audience can shift from project to project. Once it could be just the general public. At other times, it is business partners, while at other it is a project for internal purposes. More often than not, it is a combination of two or more of those.
Being clear and concise – To be understood as quickly as possible, the writer should try to use plain language. Here, she/he should try to avoid industry jargon as much as possible. If some of the terms he needs to use are too technical, he should include a glossary.
Strengthen the structure essentially refers to the use of specific formatting elements. These include subheadings and bulleted and numbered lists. Very often the writer needs to include SEO elements like keywords.
Balance text with visuals – Images graphs and tables often represent invaluable aids that can make the text itself more understandable.
Careful editing – Tech writing often includes a lot of numbers and other specific data. Those do not have any respect for mistakes.
Can any freelance writer be a technical writer?
Templates – Many tech writers use templates. These can come in handy when they need to keep the structure and the clarity of the text. Using previous successful text that a client has can serve as the best template possible.
Constant skills development – Any technical field is usually developing at a fast pace. Keeping up with new data and information and constant reading is essential. That enables a writer to do quality research for any project.
“Be humble” – doesn’t mean accepting a ‘humble’ financial reimbursement. It does mean being “completely open to feedback from clients, peers, and experts. Both negative and positive feedback is useful.“
With all this, an important question needs an answer. Can any freelance writer handle technical writing? Even if he essentially has no formal technical training in any specific field? Actually, the answer, to that question can be – yes. If he is a very skilled writer, good with words. He could gain the necessary technical knowledge through experience and research. The essence of freelance technical writing will always remain to make complex technical knowledge understandable for practically anybody.