Maybe you’re new to the world of technical communication. If this is you, and you’re asking, “What is technical writing?” we can help.
In its simplest form, it is a profession or activity that involves the creation and distribution of technical information.
Whether you are looking to become a technical writer or you are interested in the profession, this blog will provide you with the information you need to understand this career further. Before getting started, it’s important to note that technical writing does not necessarily mean you need to be a technical person. Many writers have a great deal of technical expertise, which can be an asset in this profession.
As a technical communicator and copywriter, it is your duty to thoroughly communicate the intricacies of technical content through a web page or document. However, while many writers do not have such an extensive technical background, they can often develop some technical knowledge around certain complex concepts when adapting to this type of writing style. Still, they at the very least must have a knack for understanding and explaining complex ideas and processes.
So what do technical writers do exactly? They have to create content and display information regarding a technical field. Unlike creative writing, good technical writing has to explain complex information thoroughly and clearly to its target audience.
When you’re creating information about subjects that are technical, that can be one form of technical writing. This might include information about:
- Computer applications
- Medical concepts and procedures
- Hardware specifications
All of these areas are technical by nature. In order to produce information about these subjects, it is helpful if the writer also has some technical expertise or at least access to a subject matter expert (SME) who can provide some assistance.
However, you don’t necessarily need to be writing about a highly technical subject in order to be engaging in technical writing.
Tools and Outputs
There are certain tools and outputs that are closely associated with technical writing. These tech writing tools can help writers to improve their technical communication skills and create stronger technical content.
While items like old manuals, typewriters, pens, scissors, white-out and other physical writing tools have seemingly fallen out of existence for today’s writers, modern assets such as laptops and computer software are being used by nearly everyone in every industry. Some of these computer products and software have even been designed to support the technical writing process. Now whether you are a dedicated tech writer or not, these tools can help anyone better communicate the complex concepts within their subject matter.
For example, Help authoring tools are built to create online Help systems, which are outputs typically produced by technical writers. MadCap Flare is one of those solutions, although it offers many more capabilities than just creating Help systems.
Another example is graphing software, such as Microsoft Visio. Just about everybody has heard about Microsoft Word. Not nearly as many people know about Visio, let alone are using it to create detailed flowcharts. However, someone wanting to communicate a technical process may find Visio useful in their technical writing process.
Another common indicator of technical writing is the creation of step-by-step instructions. Not all instructions are necessarily technical writing, and not all technical writing involves instructions. But most of the population doesn’t usually create steps as a part of their casual communication. On the other hand, step-by-step instructions are a big part of technical writing.
Also, not all instructions in technical writing need to be highly technical.
However, breaking instructions out into steps is an efficient and easy-to-read approach when explaining a process.
More Than Writing
Finally, when you hear the phrase “technical writing,” keep in mind that the word “writing” is doing a lot of work. It’s true that the bulk of this industry involves writing, and that was even more so back in the day. However, as technology has advanced over time, a technical writer has to do much more than just write.
Just think of the suite of MadCap Software products as an example…
- Flare Sure, mostly you’re writing content in Flare, but this is a very robust platform. It helps with creating all kinds of different files, putting settings on those files, linking and inserting elements, and more.
- Capture Creating and editing images is extremely common in technical writing. Sometimes the images might include callouts with text, but often the images stand by themselves or have various objects that you can add to them.
- Mimic Not only might you be creating static images, but you also might produce full-motion videos to help explain something.
- Lingo If your target audience requires documentation in more than one language, you might need to use a translation product like Lingo to make it happen. The technical writer and translator can use Lingo as a bridge from the main language to others.
- Central You might very well use a cloud-based platform like Central to do many other things, such as managing your outputs, analyzing how people are using your documentation, dealing with reviews from SMEs, planning tasks, managing your work with checklists and more.
As you can see, technical writing covers a variety of topics. The level of technicality will vary from project to project. Luckily, there are a number of different tools and resources to help you as you create your technical documentation.
Chances are pretty good that your work is going to include some step-by-step instructions, but not necessarily all of the time. And even though you’ll certainly be doing a lot of writing, you’ll probably also be doing lots of other things as well.