What is technical writing? It is a question that can sometimes bug not only readers in the general audience but writers themselves. Many among the writers ask themselves how they can break into that highly coveted field. Why?
As ThoughtCo notes, “Technical Communication (STC) offers this definition of technical writing: “the process of gathering information from experts and presenting it to an audience in a clear, easily understandable form.” It can take the form of writing an instruction manual for software users or detailed specifications for an engineering project—and myriad other types of writing in technical, medicine, and science fields.”
Technical writing can be a lucrative full-time profession. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average salary of a technical writer in the United States is $69,850 a year. Glassdoor estimates salaries start around $41,000 and increase to $91,000 for senior technical writers (Instructional Solutions).
Essentially, technical writing is a form of content writing that belongs to the broader category of business writing. Technically, technical writing is a form of business writing since they both deal with many of the same topics and documents.
So, how does a technical writer approach the writing process? As one expert explains, they take complicated concepts and break them down into easy-to-understand pieces. They have to be skilled at organizing information so it flows logically. With these skills, a technical writer is often responsible for many kinds of writing: manuals, online Help systems, or even video tutorials.
- First, technical documentation is often heavily focused on steps and processes, and it is painstakingly organized.
- Second, technical documentation is usually very direct.
- Third, although it is direct, technical documentation is also very detailed.
Elements and forms of technical writing
The above three elements is something every technical writer has to have in mind when he approaches his job. Today, technical writing goes much beyond its initial purpose. Initially, it was limited to user manuals of some sort.
But these days, technical writing covers all documentation of complex technical processes. It includes reports, executive summary statements, briefs. Any time technical information is conveyed in writing at work, it is, by definition, technical writing. For example, it can include high-tech manufacturing, engineering, biotech, energy, aerospace, finance, IT, and global supply chain.
As Instructional Solutions (above) points out, “the format is no longer bound to lengthy user manuals. Technical information must be distilled and presented unambiguously. This can come in the form of technical reports, emails, policy, briefs, and press releases.”
So, what kind of documents usually falls under the category of technical writing? Here’s is just a choice list:
- Technical Reports
- Emails conveying technical information
- User Interface Text
- Guides and User Manuals
- Press Releases
- White Papers & Case Studies
- Executive Summaries
- Balanced Scorecards
- Product Descriptions
You can find elements of technical writing in advertising. This is particularly the case when a writer needs to present certain technical data in her/his advertising copy.
Some specific industries have to strongly rely on technical writing. Here is only a brief list:
- Biotech & Pharmacy
- Energy and Chemical
- Information Technology
- Financial Services
- Government & Nonprofit (including legal)
- Supply Chain
What is technical writing – the job of a technical writer
Many companies employ their own technical writers. Still, quite a few, particularly smaller ones and startups rely on freelance technical writers.
The job of a technical writer will differ depending on the industry and company that they are employed with.
They often work on multidisciplinary teams functioning as the mediator between the more technical staff and less technical readers. They will work closely with these teams to develop a communications strategy.
Their responsibilities often extend beyond just writing. They must understand the entire project from high-level goals to the intricacies of implementation (Instructional Solutions).
A technical writer has always to have in mind that the purpose of his writing is to present the information. And that is primarily the information that is for the benefit of the client organization and its target audience.
She/he has to present knowledge that is greater than her/his reader. At least before they have read their technical information. They always have to have in mind that the audience they are presenting the information to has a different technical background.
The final work of a technical writer will have its true effect if her/his presentation is organized simply and clearly. It also has to be in a format that meets the needs of busy readers. Technical writers often have to use statistical and graphic support. These tools explain the existing conditions and often present alternative courses of action (ThoughtCo.).
Core skills of a technical writer
One of the reasons why technical writers are sought after is that they have to possess quite a number of skills if they want to be successful. Instructional Solutions (above) define some of the key ones:
- Research – This is the key first step in any writing, particularly technical writing. When they get an assignment, technical writers have to collect both numerical and non-numerical data and turn it into valuable information. They can do this through, on-site data, online and intranet publications, and interviews. Of course, libraries and research databases are invaluable sources of information.
- Document organization and audience perception – After doing the research a technical writer needs to synthesize and begin planning document organization. The technical information they research and gather has to serve reader interest, understanding, and perception. This is because technical writers often have to communicate highly technical information to a non-technical audience.
- Communication skills – These are imperative for a good technical writer. They often have to be working with multiple teams and individuals from differing roles. During that process, they have to listen, record, and communicate successfully.
- Technical skills – Writers have to understand the technical nature of the content they are writing about. Many technical writers have academic or work experience in the topic they are writing about and many technical writers have job titles of an engineer, geologist, seismologist, financial analyst, or business analyst.
Technical writing is slightly easier if you come from the technical side and are learning to write. It is sometimes more difficult if your background is in writing and you are trying to learn the technical content.
More on the core skills of a technical writer
- Writing – It is important that the technical writer has the correct tone, style, and format for your document. Often these rules are outlined by the employing organization in a style guide.
- Documentation design – As mentioned above, technical writers often have to incorporate different types of graphics into their documents. Graphics, like tables, graphs and charts aid the reader in comprehending the information. The formatting should be professional and aid the reader in navigating the document. Headings should be easy to skim, and the content should be organized logically. A poorly designed document will make it more difficult for the reader to understand the content. Document design is a key aspect of technical writing.
- Fluency with digital tools – Today writers must use multiple tools during the technical writing process. This often goes beyond basic text editors. Technical writers are expected to be able to create graphics and annotate images and screen captures and extract data from Excel and convey that data in charts and tables.
- User research and testing – “Some forms of technical writing may require user research and testing. An example application where detailed research and testing would be appropriate is a written guide instructing engineers how to fix a faulty mechanism on a deep ocean oil rig.”
Improving technical writing skills
Very often, writers enter a specific technical field for which they did not have formal training. So, how can they improve their capabilities as a technical writer in a certain field?
Of course, the initial step is to read materials that fall under a certain technical field. They should for documents from competitors or writers in related industries. They should examine their writing to determine how they organize information through written text.
Another step is to create a writing process. “Having a clear workflow will help you systematically accomplish your work.”
Getting subjective and objective feedback on their writing is one of the fastest ways to improve their skills. To truly master technical writing they need to get feedback from a mentor. This can be from an expert in the client organization or through a professional development group.
Taking specialized courses is certainly another way to go in this respect. In this case, it is mainly courses in technical writing. It is imperative that the course includes one-on-one feedback and instruction.
Of course, writing practice within a certain field is essential. Technical writers should look to incorporate new concepts into their work. They can even review old work to critique what they would do differently if they were to write the document today.
What is technical writing – concluding remarks
So, how can you briefly summarise what is technical writing?
Simply put, technical writers explain things. They take complicated concepts and break them down into easy-to-understand pieces. They also have skills at organizing information so it flows logically. With these skills, a technical writer is often responsible for many kinds of writing: manuals, online Help systems, or even video tutorials.
All this may sound quite simple and straightforward. Still, it might be a painstaking task to find a reliable technical writer that will prepare a document or a set of documents. Every single time, such documents have to suit specific needs.
One of the better methods of securing the services of a reliable technical writer is to go through a list of available writing services. Bunny Studio provides one such service, where technical and other writers, in general, have to pass detailed screening tests.