Technical achievement without vision is only a craft. This can be said for the work of any author. Not all writers require bombastic vocabulary and an imaginative mind. Sometimes, all you need is a precise way with words. Yes, we are talking about the scope of a technical writer.
American writer, Kurt Vonnegut said, “Technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writing. This makes them freaks in the world of writers since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to the reader.” The mind of a technical writer is logical and well-organized. Their works require no input of personal opinion or emotional expression. But before you begin to undermine technical writer jobs, know it is more than it meets the eye. Rather, the job requires a specific set of skills different from most writers.
This article is a guide for those looking to hire a competent technical writer, or for those just learning the trade. We’ll talk about technical writer salary, skills and job scope. We’ll also explore solutions on how to hire a reliable and competent contract technical writer.
But if you prefer to watch a video instead, click here:
What is a Technical Writer?
So what does a technical writer do? To put it simply, he or she communicates with written information in a directive or instructional style. The main purpose of the material is to plainly put across specialized topics such as technical applications, environmental regulations, or medical procedures. The text should clearly guide the reader on how to use the information or information rendered.
Anil Bhat defined technical writing as the simplification of the complexity of technology with the use of words. In contrast with other forms of writing, the technical writing style is comparatively more objective, logical and systematic. The tone of language used is clear, direct, neutral and precise. The conveyed text can be distributed through channels such as websites, manuals, handbooks, help files, and even social media platforms.
Who Needs a Technical Writer?
As the field of technology advances, more inventions and discoveries are being put out in the world. Not everyone understands the mechanics and complexity of say, how a software or vacuum cleaner works. But most can learn to operate them with the help of technical communication. Today, technical writing is a specific skill employed in many occupational and technical industries. Such include subjects in the below fields:
- Medical and pharmaceutical
- Software applications
- Hardware usage
- Environmental technology
- Consumer electronics
- Finance and banking
The Applications of Technical Writing
Technical writers help companies communicate more effectively with end-users who utilize the products or information. The written work is usually very detailed and informative. But, at the same time, clear and straightforward.to understand. Below are some examples of documents that may require the skills of technical writers:
- Software manuals
- Standard Operating Procedures
- Instructional Materials
- User Interface Text
- Product Descriptions
- Case Studies
- Executive Summaries
Technical writing makes information more accessible and useful. Therefore, technical writers are the bridge between experts in technology and the people who use them. Because of this, misunderstandings can be avoided. On an organizational level, written specifications and manuals can help technical experts reduce rework caused by trial and error. This speeds up the development cycle and lowers risks and mishaps. To consumers, technical writing can help to make products more user friendly. During set up, illustration included with the written material can help the end-user identify parts or understand the process more easily.
In the medical industry, manuals, proposals, and brochures can help healthcare professionals and patients better manage treatment. Software directions can also assist users of medical equipment by educating them on the correct protocol of use. This not only helps to improve medical care provided to patients. It also reduces costs and health risks associated with incorrect administration of care. Ultimately, it can increase the success rate in patient diagnosis and treatment whilst reducing the cost of manpower in the marketplace.
Elements of a Good Technical Writer
Fred Brooks said, “Present to inform, not to impress; if you inform, you will impress.” Are you researching how to become a technical writer? Or mayhap it’s your first time outsourcing for a one and you don’t know where to begin. In any case, there are certain basic qualities crucial to the trade.
Good Language Skills
Naturally, all writers of any kind should possess a strong command of language and communication. He or she should be a proficient native speaker and have at least some experience in writing. Ezra Pound said, “Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.” As simple as it sounds, it is sometimes more difficult than expected. This is for several reasons.
To begin with, one needs to thoroughly understand the functions and purpose of the material. But more importantly, translating complex information, concept or theories into layman terms can be a real test to one’s language skills. Why? Because it is no longer as simple as whipping out a thesaurus. It requires thoughtful planning on how to present information in a way that does not raise any questions or ambiguity. The information has to be broken down into bite-sized and digestible pieces depending on the capability of the specific audience it is written for.
A Tip for Hirers:
When sourcing for a technical writer, it’s always good practice to ask for client testimonials. They are a great way to gauge the reliability of the writer in many aspects such as meeting deadlines, communication efficiency, and competency. Platforms such as this one come are supported with feedback from many reputable clients and are more trustworthy. In addition, do review some of the works the potential applicant has done in the past to have a feel on his or her language capabilities.
Appropriate Qualification & Experience
Senior technical writer and author, Bureeda Bruner started off skeptical of her abilities. She quoted, “When I mentioned that I didn’t have the required degree or the technical experience, the hiring manager told me that he knew I could write well. He knew a secret that many managers of technical writers don’t: it’s much easier to teach technology than it is to teach all the fundamentals of good writing.”
Fundamentally, technical writers are simply writers. That is, they should possess the basic adequacies of being a proficient writer. In some fields, however, a qualified professional from the industry might find it simpler to understand, process and digest the relevant information. In any case, there are always courses available in colleges and over the internet that can help one upgrade or pick up the skill set.
A Tip for Hirers:
A bachelor’s degree is usually recommended in most cases. Depending on the industry you are in, you might want to consider potentials with qualifications in writing, technical communications, or the specific field related to your business. Some employers hire writers that do not possess such qualifications. In such cases, it is always a good idea to ask for samples of their previous works.
Good Organizational Habits
It’s not so much about flowery vocabulary as to the critical thought process that flows through the mind of a technical writer. Because the communicated information is usually very detailed and informative, structure and logic are very important traits for a technical writer. A good technical writer always plans ahead on how to present the information in a way that is easy for the reader to follow along.
Former CIA director, William J. Casey said, “If there is no index, the book is probably not worth reading.” Whether it’s a training manual or a proposal, the composition of the material has to be written with a structural sequence that allows the reader to easily access the information as and where they are needed.
A Tip for Hirers:
Whether you outsource your work to freelancers or companies, screen potential writers through their communication with you. Good writers are detailed and ask questions when they are unclear. They manage work with good organization skills and also respond promptly in a professional manner.
Technical Writing Style
Successful CEO, Andrew Plato said, “By three methods we may learn technical writing: First by education, which is noblest; second by methodology, which is easiest; and third by planting your butt in a chair and pecking out the damn document, which is the bitterest.” So, it’s time to get those hands wet.
There is a specific style characteristic of technical writing. In general, the rule of thumb is to avoid emotional or flowery language. Instead, write in an accessible, direct and easily understandable way. Below are a few key guidelines for you to follow:
Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain things simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Hence, before you begin writing, make sure you thoroughly understand the subject matter. Clarify any ambiguity so you can oversee the process
Next, prioritize the most important information. Move it to at the front of each sentence or section where possible. This makes it easier for the reader to digest information, especially with a large number of text that usually comes with manuals.
Here’s an Example: ✗ Instead of: Researchers had concerns on the efficacy of the vaccine, yet the trial was successful. ✔ Write: The vaccine trial was successful despite researchers’ concerns on its efficacy.
Choice of Words
Marcus Tullius said, “When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men’s minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.” Technical writers should be concise and clear in their writing. Eliminate unnecessary words that constitute repetition. Also, a technical writer always remains neutral in their perspective. So bear in mind to cut down on adjectives and emotional expressions where possible.
Furthermore, always know your audience and the level of their understanding of the subject. Where possible, avoid the use of industry jargon and abbreviations. As much as possible, use simple laymans words to explain information. If you need to use any of them, make sure you define them at the first use.
Here’s an example: ✗ Instead of: The sample strand was successfully amplified with PCR. ✔ Write: Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) successfully made copies of the sample strand.
Use of Tense
The most comprehensible and straightforward way to present information is to write in an active voice. Where possible, do your best to avoid writing in a passive voice. Active voice is when the subject of the sentence becomes the doer of the verb’s action.
Here’s an example: ✗ Passive Voice: The number of microbial colonies is counted by the lab technician manually. ✔ Active Voice: The lab technician manually counts the number of microbial colonies.
Technical Writer Salary
Because of the advancement of modern-day technology, technical writers have good prospects due to the industry’s demand. So here’s the iffy part of dollar and cents. How much does a technical writer earn? Or in the case of an employer, what is the reasonable salary range paid to a technical writer?
If you’re looking to hire in-house, the average salary ranges from $49,000 to $79,000 depending on experience. It is understandably quite a hefty sum especially for SMEs who are newly positioning products in the market. A logical alternative would, therefore, be to outsource the work to a contract or freelance technical writer.
If you only have rare and short-term projects, outsourcing may just be your solution. According to PayScale, the average hourly rate of a technical writer is $27. Some writers, however, base their rate on the number of words instead. A reliable platform like this one charges a dollar per word with a turnover time of about 2 days. The great thing about it is that the bigger your project, the lower the relative cost. A 300-word project can cost as low as $33. Not to mention the fact that it is well-trusted by many reputable companies worldwide such as Dell and Airbnb. You can be sure that your technical writing project is in the right hands when it comes to quality assurance.
To Sum Things
James Grover Thurber said, “Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair-trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.” Technical writers are an important bridge of communication between businesses and consumers. The most important tip? Keep it simple!