This guest blog post was written by Dr. David Marshall, a technical writer and a training developer since 2007. He is also the owner of Neithdos Consulting Services LLC. Dr. Marshall received his DM in Executive Leadership from Colorado Technical University in 2021.

According to an article from the Jane Friedman website, a person that is writing constantly and consistently is a writer. So why is this important? In our field we are constantly putting pen to paper, or in today’s age, fingers to keyboard and mouse to create amazing documents for our customers.

These incredible products are developed by writers that want to create quality content for their customers and organizations. Here is a small list of content that writers have created:

  • Academic Writing
  • Blogs
  • Book Writing
  • Columnist
  • Copywriting
  • Email Marketing
  • Journalist
  • Long Form Content
  • Novelist
  • Screenwriter
  • Social Media
  • Travel Writer
  • Video Scripts

Being a writer can be rewarding especially to those who like to take control of their lives, focus on self-development, and make a difference in the world.

So, who are these writers? What kind of writing jobs do they take on? Here is a sample: 

  • Blog writing – A very popular way to produce content online.
  • Social Media – A great place to make your and the organization’s presence known.
  • Copywriting – Writing content for marketing purposes. Great experience working with advertising and marketing. 
  • Academic Writing – Essays, dissertations, research papers.
  • Video Scripts – These scripts are used by presenters especially on YouTube to promote a product, brand, or service. 

In this blog, we are going to concentrate on technical writing including what is a technical writer, what a technical writer does on a day-by-day basis, the different types of technical documentation, and how to be successful as a technical writer.

Technical Writer 

A technical writer is someone who relays complex information from the developers of the product or service to the customers. Sometimes these topics can be complex and very hard to understand. The technical writer simplifies these details to provide users with valuable documentation. 

The traditional definition of technical writing is to create documents specifically for professional audiences such as research papers, programming guidelines, and repair manuals. However, technical writing has expanded to include all documentation including technical reports, executive summaries, and briefs. 

Technical writing requires direction and instructions, unlike other writings. This is done by creating documentation that is written in an easy-to-understand format that may include images, videos, and/or step-by-step instructions. These documents help the reader learn, understand, and use the product without any complications.

Technical Writing Principles

There are principles technical writers follow when developing documentation. These principles include: 

  • Quality of the content
  • Audience
  • Purpose
  • Accessibility
  • Grammar
  • Writing style

Rules to Follow to be Successful

In order to create effective technical writing, you must keep the following writing skills in mind while preparing a document: 

  • Know all of the facts in detail
  • Plan the document
  • Structure the document
  • Think about the end user
  • Use graphics
  • Use an active voice
  • Use simple language
  • Skip the jargon
  • Be exciting
  • Stick to a technical subject
  • Have a purpose
  • Maintain an objective
  • Convey solid information/facts/data
  • Be impersonal
  • Stay concise
  • Maintain direction
  • Properly cite contributors

Industries Supported

Technical Writers support a number of industries such as: 

  • IT
  • Engineering
  • Software
  • Heavy Machinery
  • Aerospace/Aviation
  • Electronic
  • Healthcare
  • Education

Types of Technical Writing Documentation

There are a number of artifacts that technical writers will develop supporting industries that were mentioned above. Not that this list below is not all-inclusive: 

  • End User Documentation
    • End User documentation helps customers understand and operate the product by breaking down technological terms into easy-to-understand content. Examples of End User documents include: 
      • User Help Guides
        • Provide clear and sensible answers to common questions.
      • Product Manuals
        • Highlight the product's main features, general maintenance, and basic operations. A great example is the operator’s manual.
      • Assembly Guidelines
        • Instructions on how to physically set up a product. Technical writers are responsible for writing clear and user-friendly step-by-step instructions
      • Technical Books
        • This document shows the ins and outs of a product such as software production. Easy to understand and of interest to non-subject matter experts. 
  • Medical Documentation
    • This form of writing pertains to medical research, diagnosis, and treatment. 
    • These documents contain results that are published in medical journals. This information needs to be accurate, organized, and in fine detail. These documents are used by practitioners as a learning resource to understand procedures and results.
  • Traditional Documentation
    • Developed by technical writers for those who are experts in the field that the document is about. These documents include software user manuals, how-to-instructions, operation and maintenance manuals, and standard operating procedures.
  • Case Studies
    • Case studies are used to show how a particular product helps a business. The organization will write how this product or service was a great benefit that help the company reach its business goals. A couple of examples of case studies are testimonials or customer reviews. 
  • Proposal and Pitches
    • Many industries depend on proposals and pitches to obtain new business. Technical writers are vital in creating these proposals to persuade the stakeholder to award the project to the organization. 
  • Brochures
    • Brochures take users to a deeper level of understanding and appeal through clear descriptions, functions, and uses of a product. Brochure writers will use key phrases to entice potential customers in trying the product or service. 
  • Online Articles
    • These writings are for users that are assembling products and are not as technical in nature.
  • Press Releases
    • Formal announcements of new information about the company. This is normally developed by the technical writer that is supporting the marketing department. These releases can be in the form of articles, white papers, and case studies.
  • White Papers
    • White papers are used by marketing to promote the success of a product or service. The writer will use these documents to show how the product or service was able to solve a problem. 
  • Instruction Manuals
    • These manuals are geared to those who want to learn a product such as software in an easy step-by-step guide.

Some Who Don’t Understand

There are different groups of people who may not understand what a technical writer does or the importance of the documents that these writers develop so to an organization, program, or project. 

An example is in an agile environment. One of the values of the Agile Manifesto is working software over comprehensive documentation. There are some individuals that take that value to the extreme believing that documentation is not required at all on projects. 

It is very important for the technical writer to meet with and establish a rapport with the engineers, developers, and product owners. Doing this as soon as possible will benefit the project in the long run. 

Technical Writer Mistakes to Avoid

As a technical writer, it is essential to try to avoid these tech writing mistakes when creating technical documents. These mistakes include: 

  • Poorly defined topic
  • Lengthy sentences and big words
  • Scattered page layout
  • Inadequate content
  • Inconsistent tone

Top Technical Writing Tools

There are a number of software tools a technical writer will use to develop for the customer. These tools assist in writing, editing, drawing, reviewing, and rewriting. A sample list of the tools available include:

  • Google Docs
    • Google Docs is being used more and more to collaborate on documents through the mobile phone.  
  • Snagit 
    • A screen capture and screen recording software that can be used for giving feedback, training, or just showing others how to do a task. 
  • Visio
    • Microsoft Visio is used to create design flowcharts, architectural diagrams, software product design, circuits, etc. The software is IEEE compliant and conforms with software industry standards such as UML (Unified Modeling Language) and BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation).
  • Photoshop
    • A very popular image editing tool that creates and edits images for web pages, banner ads, and video graphics.
  • MadCap Flare
    • MadCap Flare is used to streamline document creation and learning & development programs. One of the favorite topic-based authoring tools for technical writers. 
  • Adobe Framemaker
    • Used to generate structured documents with an XML framework that is 100% DITA compliant. 
  • Wordpress
    • This software is used to create technical documentation in blog form. Blogs written on Wordpress can be integrated into the company website. 

Summary

Being a tech writer can be very rewarding and since there are so many opportunities to choose from, it should be easy to choose the field that will be a great opportunity to display your talents. 

Technical writing is one of those fields that creators can get into to produce amazing products for customers and organizations. These outstanding products are beneficial to the user so that they can understand the complex information and use the product or service efficiently. For more information on how to become a technical writer, visit MadCap today. 

References

What it Means to be a Writer – and to Emerge as a Writer by Albert Flynn DeSilver – October 9, 2017

17 Awesome Technical Writing Tools for Documenting Information by Whatfix – November 6, 2019

Types of Technical Writing: What the Various Types of Technical Writing Men by Outranking – January 1, 2022

What are the different types of Technical Writing by Collabera – 2019

What is Technical Writing? By Kara Latz – June 10, 2022