What is Technical Writing?

Technical writing draws the attention of many people as a prospectively lucrative field in which they may apply their writing skills. However, the activity may appear scary to try due to the perceived vaguity of the term. In this article, we will clarify for you what technical writing actually is and what does it take to become a proficient technical writer.

A common definition of technical writing is that it is the practice of documenting processes. In other words, it is the process of conveying difficult technical procedures in understandable language that enables the reader to reproduce those processes correctly. Sounds simple, right?

Unfortunately, things are not as easy as they may seem from the definition outlined above. The key difficulty of technical writing is that you constantly have to worry about finding the balance of simplifying the information you have the task to convey, and keeping it professional and factually accurate. As a technical writer, you always must take sure that your documents do not simplify the information to the extent that it becomes distorted.

Peculiarities of technical writing

It is easy to see that the definition of tech writing presented above remains quite broad despite our attempts to make it more precise. To further address this issue, let’s have a closer look at some of the peculiarities of technical writing that make it stand out from its close cousins such as business writing.

  • It most often takes the form of step-by-step instructions. As we will discuss later in this article, nowadays technical writing is not limited to user manuals. Nevertheless, your technical documents will almost inevitably focus on a process that can be reproduced following several simple (or not so much) steps.
  • Tech writing has to be as direct as possible. There is no space for an extra word here and there that would make your text more interesting to read. The obvious reason for this state of affairs is that a technical document is not supposed to be interesting. Instead, its purpose is to convey information efficiently.
  • Your writing must be detailed. This point complements the previous one in the sense that the need to provide maximum possible information calls you to avoid including things that are not immediately relevant in your document.

The characteristics outlined above make it clear that a set of unique technical writing skills is necessary to start a lucrative and successful career of a tech writer.

Why do people need technical writing?

The purpose of technical writing is to provide people with the information on what steps to take in order to achieve a set goal. These goals vary greatly. They include using a piece of software or equipment, avoiding industrial injuries, consuming a specific type of food with the maximum positive effect on one’s body and so on. Naturally, performing mundane tasks does not necessitate having a technical document in front of you. Technical writing comes into prominence when the task at hand requires a certain level of knowledge and expertise which you are about to gain from the document.

The point above makes it clear that technical writing and technical communication in general is even more prominent within a business or organization than it is between the business and its customers. Internal procedures and manufacturing processes needs clear and precise explanation to enable employees to follow them and, by doing so, ensure long-term success of the business.

Types of technical writing

As already mentioned, there are several technical writing categories that come into play depending on the context in which tech writing is applied. The list presented below may be not exhaustive, but it provides a picture of the variety of forms a technical document may take.

  • Guides and manuals.
  • Emails.
  • Memos.
  • Technical reports.
  • Product descriptions.
  • User interface content.
  • Reports.

A brief look at the list is sufficient to realize that all these types of writing are united by the fact that they equip the reader with the information needed to use something, be it a website, a certain product or the equipment used to design and manufacture that product.

Integrated technical communication

As we already discussed, tech writing is mainly about communicating technicalities within a business or organization to ensure that all the relevant procedures are followed properly. At the same time, the growing complexity of the relationships between businesses and their customers combined with the fact that the number of tech-heavy products and services on the global market increases constantly necessitates the implementation of effective tech writing into the overall communications strategy of a company.

This consideration gave rise to the concept of integrated technical communication (ITC). It is an integrated strategy that carefully combines marketing and public relations messages with technical writing to make sure that customer experience is not affected negatively by the inability to use the product properly. In other words, ITC makes use of tech writing to improve the public image of the business in the eyes of its customers.

It is necessary to underline, though, that technical writing is only a part of ITC. Moreover, there is no strong evidence to back up the claim that tech writing will focus mainly on its ITC applications in the future.

Technical writing skills

As we have touched upon the definition of technical writing, its purpose, and the forms it may take, let’s have a look at the technical writing skills necessary for success in this challenging activity.

Research

Technical writing is all about explaining something in accessible terms. To do so, you must be well versed in the subject matter. Therefore, you cannot help but start every technical writing project with a thorough research on what you will be writing about. The ability to perform your research quickly and effectively helps a lot!

Understanding the audience

Your final product depends heavily on the target audience and their level of expertise on the issue. Therefore, a clear understanding of who will read your document and what takeaways they will be likely to seek from it is crucial for successful tech writing.

Another question to keep in mind is whether your document is meant for internal use or it will be accessed by a wide audience which may be heterogeneous in terms of background knowledge and expertise.

Communication skills

This one seems obvious. Sinc writing is a form of communication, you do need communication skills to write well. However, there are other considerations to be mentioned. As a tech writer, you are likely to work with a team of experts who have designed the procedure you are about to explain in your document. Communicating with them effectively makes a difference for you and your prospective readers alike!

Skills in document design

The way in which your technical document is organized is as important as the words you use. Therefore, you must understand the best way to format your document and include graphs, tables, and other assistive elements where necessary.

Making those visuals clear and effective is an art in and of itself. You will have to get acquainted with modern digital tools to streamline your document design process.    

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