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What Is Technical Writing and How to Become a Technical Writer

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PS has worked as a freelance writer since 2012. When she's not traveling and writing, she helps people with web design and development.

what-is-technical-writing-and-how-to-become-a-technical-writer

What is Technical Writing?

Technical writing is a part of business writing that is written for specialized purpose and goal. Its goal is to inform and persuade people about technical activities. It is also termed as transactional writing because it is written by communicating with two or more people or in a group. This is prevalent everywhere and is real-world writing. You can see it in textbooks, websites, written business communications, and instructions.

The most general use of technical writing is to elaborate on the process of systems, software, and certain operations. Every company, not only IT companies, requires a technical writer to document their development procedures. It can be about IT development procedure, construction, food preservation and so on.

What makes Technical Writing so Important?

Technical writing is used by college graduates as part of their projects and work. It is quite different from creative and academic writing. It is used for resume, curriculum vitae, reports, instructions, and case reports and for many other purposes.

Why Technical Writing is different from other Forms of Writing?

It is written for a specific audience and mainly to solve a particular problem. Unlike other writings, this type of writing is very often collaborative. Besides writing, it also focuses on page design and graphics.

Technical communication indicates explicit as well as implicit purposes:

  1. Explicit: Explicit communication is intended to persuade the audience to act upon the information and follow the relative instructions.
  2. Implicit: Implicit communication is meant to establish relations, build trust and document actions.
what-is-technical-writing-and-how-to-become-a-technical-writer

Principles of Technical Writing

Technical Writing works on the basis of 7 principles:

  1. Purpose (inform/persuade)
  2. Audience (their requirement and background)
  3. Specialized content based on the purpose and audience
  4. Clear and precise active voice statements and language understandable by the audience
  5. Visuals (page design and graphics)
  6. Ethical (Strictly no plagiarism and based on true facts)

Skills of a Technical Writer

Just like any other writer, a technical writer needs to have a strong foundation in English language and communication. Besides this, the following skills are also extremely important:

  • Technical experience and terminology: Technical writers need to be aware of technical jargons, have sufficient knowledge of software and how certain operation works.
  • Industry Knowledge: It is expected that the writers specialized in this field have an idea of how the industrial process works and how to pour them in written language through graphics and other visuals.
  • Writing Skills: Well, it goes without saying but still, I mentioned it. Since, your job includes interpreting complex processes and systems, make sure to use easy-to-interpret language.
  • Ability to work with Technical Tools: Technical documents are very lengthy and require huge time to get them completed satisfactorily. In such a scenario, having knowledge of technical tools is a must. Technical writers are very busy professionals and there is no chance of compromising in any of their documents, technical tools help them to organize the content in a systematic manner without any errors. If you wish to know about these tools, then keep on reading this article to the end.
  • Troubleshooting and Product Testing Knowledge: A technical writer is expected to cover every good and bad aspect of a product. So, there are high chances that you may be asked to attend a product testing session. Include every possible scenario. If you think that a certain feature works perfectly, but the design is not presentable, then do mention it as well.
  • Communication Skills: Technical writing is produced after deep communication with the respective team. Try to analyze every site of the product, gather even the least important information. Analyze the raw data and form it into the expected draft, first. I know when I was working in a tech company and my technical writer needed to visit the respective developer every now and then. From her situation, I know it's a tough job, so I recommend you to list down all the possible points beforehand and then approach the right person.

Best Resources to Practice your Technical Writing Skills

  1. GitHub
  2. LinkSV (Link Silicon Valley)
  3. PHP.net
  4. Docker
  5. Django
  6. Coursera
  7. iFixit
what-is-technical-writing-and-how-to-become-a-technical-writer

Salaried or Self-Employed

Technical writers have the option to work from home or office. Though it is a collaborative effort, still most of the companies hire freelancers to write the technical documents. The reason for this is less amount incurred in hiring a remote worker with comparison to recruiting a writer to work at the office.

Whether you choose to work online or offline, every option has its own pros and cons. Let’s take a look at them:

Self-Employed Technical Writer

Pros:

  1. Flexible schedule
  2. Option to choose the type of project
  3. There is no one to boss you

Cons

  1. Infrequent payment
  2. No fixed income (newcomers take time to forge a successful freelance career)
  3. Constantly looking for work

Salaried Technical Writer

Pros

  1. Chances of gaining high-end experience in a certain industry
  2. Opportunity to work with other skilled professionals
  3. Benefits including fixed schedule, insurance, and monthly income

Cons

  1. Monotonous 9 to 5 desk job. (Some people complain of health issues.)
  2. Poor work-life balance
  3. Need to stick to the deadlines and follow your boss’ orders
  4. Fear of losing a job, if something wrong happens

Rules of Technical Writing

Technical writing has 10 basic rules that every writer is expected to follow:

1. Your paper is your sole Responsibility

In some writing fields, the work done by a creative writer is proofread by someone else and then, sent forward for publication. But in the case of technical writing, the writer is solely responsible for his/her paper. He/She needs to write the whole content on their own and then, proofread it several times before sending to users and other professionals.

If your product documentation contains errors, typos, wrong punctuation, and spelling mistakes, then users may judge that the product quality is also not good.

Make sure the information is not misleading and understandable by the general public.

2. Understand your Audience

Knowing the end-user helps to form the writing style of the document. You should know about their demographics, age groups, their technical capabilities, and their language.

Ask yourself if your user is novice or experienced. How they use online and offline information? Also, is the document readable by color blinded people? Take the help of the marketing team and engage with the customers. You can also make use of FOGG index to know the quality of your document.

3. Highlight Warnings

Highlight the things that require users’ special attention. Distinctly clarify the pain points, risks involved and use proper instructions to handle the problems. As a technical writer, you need to find possible problems, rank them on the basis of severities, make them visually clear and highlight them in the documentation along with remedies.

4. Cut it short

No-one likes long and detailed paragraphs. They are boring and time-consuming. As a technical writer, you need to keep below points in mind to make sure your document has high readability quotient:

  • Write short sentences
  • Visualize content and use graphical representation for the same.
  • Use a structural technique to write document such as including heading, bullet points, tables, flowcharts and so on
  • Think about the way people can easily figure out the essential points without any assistance.

5. No Blind writing

Write about what you know and understand very well. Technical documentation needs to have clear documentation so the users face no difficulty while using the product. Do not rely on rumors and second-hand facts. Explore the product yourself and write all that you understand about it. Take help from SMEs(Subject Matter Experts) and ask open end questions.

6. Maintain Consistency

If you need to repeat the same lines many times, do not show your creativity. Write it in the same manner, as they are supposed to be written. It’s a rule. Before beginning with the writing part, decide how to refer the product and maintain the same typefaces in the complete document.

7. Signpost

If your document is extensively elaborate, then make sure to signposts. Signposts help the users to find the references for difficult parts in the writing. You can use layout and typography to depict elemental relationship.

8. Follow Standards

Technical writing is not like blogging or writing for fun. It is a serious business and needs to make use of standard terminology to explain an operation or a product. Make yourself aware of regulatory and compliance before finalizing the document.

9. Think before visualizing

Make a thorough decision if you need graphics to explain a certain point. Decide the appropriate graphics, callouts, type of images views (such as exploded, isometric and many others) and annotations. Place them after the content.

10. Get rid of Fluff

Do not make use of complex words, strong verbs or unnecessary passive voice. Try to use active voice to make the sentences short and precise.

Technical Writing Certification

There are many institutes providing certification courses in technical writing. But I highly recommend you to check out STC (Society of Technical Communication). Their certification courses are the best of all. You can also read the Technical Communication Journal and Intercom.

what-is-technical-writing-and-how-to-become-a-technical-writer

Tools for Technical Writing Jobs

Here are some recommended technical writing tools used by professionals:

  1. Help authoring tool (Adobe RoboHelp, Author-it, Madcap Flare, ClickHelp, Help+Manual, Dr.Explain, HelpNDoc)- for documenting complex software applications.
  2. Text Editor (oXygen, DITA)
  3. Page Layout Tool (Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Framemaker)- for creating the layout and finalizing the design elements.
  4. Graphics Tool (Photoshop, SnagIt, Illustrator, Gimp)- for modifying images and creating diagrams.
  5. Video Capture Tool (Adobe Captivate, Camtasia Studio) - for video capturing and editing. Videos are not generally used visual elements, but you may use it to explain your concept in more detail if required.

If you are in for a job as technical writing, then you may sign up on famous freelancer sites like Upwork, LinkedIn, remoteok.io, Guru. For offline jobs, it is better to apply directly to the IT companies and explain to them about your knowledge with the above-mentioned tools, certification (if any) and past experience.

People with no experience have the advantage to show they are familiar with the tools and have a course completed form STC (Society of Technical Communication). It can ease your chances of getting hired.

Top Online Courses for Technical Writing

If you are serious about career into technical writing, then here is the list of the best technical writing online courses:

  1. OSU (Oregon State University)
  2. Communicaid
  3. Coursera
  4. Society for Technical Communication
  5. Udemy
  6. Emphasis
  7. TechWriter-Certification
  8. Class Central

Books for Technical Writing

Besides joining an online course, reading books is also a good source to develop your technical writing skills, here are some of the best books that you can order right now, to begin with, your technical writing career:

1. Technical Writing Process by Kieran Morgan

The book talks about the five basic steps that you should consider to write any type of technical documentation, whether it is a product manual or a user guide. It helps you write for different types of audience and is suitable for novice technical writers, students, and even non-writers. It is recommended for established writers as well for who have to manage a documentation project.

2. The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing by Krista Van Laan

Technical writing is not just merely transforming oral words into a written language. It is rather a combination of multiple skills including communication skills, writing and a deep understanding of technical details. This book by Krista Van Laan helps to understand every aspect of technical writing. Irrespective of your experience level, it works wonder for every writer.

3. Managing Your Documentation Projects by JoAnn T. Hackos

JoAnn T. Hackos is widely known for her work as a technical writer for elite companies such as HP (Hewlett-Packard) and IBM. Through this book, “Managing Your Documentation Projects”, she shares with you her technical writing experience of 15 years. The book not only talks about the basics of technical writing but also includes publication, project management, understanding proven strategies for producing high-quality documentation as well as tricks to manage the documentation projects. Also, giving you insights into how to work through cost and time effective measures.

4. Technical Communication, 9th edition by Mike Markel

The book is filled up with helpful technical writing samples, cases along with the guide on how to plan, draft and design the documents. If you are new to technical writing, then this book will guide through every corner of the technical writing field with practical writing advice. It’s a must-have for beginners.

5. Technical Writing for Dummies by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts

This step-by-step guide by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts helps you know the technical writing procedure from scratch. Starting from the type of research you need to conduct to how to deliver the final documentation, this book has everything you can ask for.

what-is-technical-writing-and-how-to-become-a-technical-writer

Technical writing, as the name suggests, is writing about technology, computer-related services and functionality of a particular product. But, that’s not all. Sometimes you may also be expected to write to sell. In other words, you should know how to write content that not only helps your audiences but also boost the marketing and selling rate of the company.

You should know what makes people curious to know more about the product and buy it. It is only possible by study and practice.

Your writing must answer three major consumers’ questions:

  1. What’s in it for me?
  2. How will it benefit me?
  3. What additional perks do I receive by buying this product?

Let’s get started with two basic examples that’ll help you make more of your selling copy:

Example #1

Features

The Whip-round electric lawn mover, weighing 22 lb., possess twice as much the power of common mowers. It also comes with sound modulated and heavy insulated motor housing.

Benefits

  • Light-weighted build eases your work to push it back and forth.
  • Fewer efforts required and no tiredness.
  • More power gives you faster job is done and more free time to do your other work.
  • Neighbor-Friendly machine. Silent operation.

Example #2

Features

The MegaTune 234 MP3 player has 1GB of memory, FM tuner, adjustable armband, impact-resistant case, USB connection and makes use of 1AAA battery.

Benefits

  • You can store up to 250 of your favorite songs
  • You can record radio shows and listen to them whenever you want.
  • Solid construction giving you no-damage assurance
  • Comfortably fits your arm
  • You can send and receive files easily
  • A single battery gives you long-hours (up to 16 hours) of music entertainment

Example #3

Features

The AB professional blender has 4.5 amp motor, heavy duty base available in pastel colors, 45 oz. reflect glass carafe, 2-speed operation, self-cleaning blade assembly as well as metric and English graduations.

Benefits

  • Powerful motor gives you enough power to make all your special dishes.
  • Build for the toughest use
  • Available in several colors to meet your home decor
  • You can crush fruit and ice with equal ease with the commercial grade motor.
  • The reflect glass carafe reverses the food back into the blades for better blending.
  • The presence of self-cleaning blade assembly eases your work of cleaning the blender.
  • The dual metric and English graduations let anyone read and follow the directions

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