What does a technical writer do?
A technical writer is a professional who can create content that breaks down complex information to be more understandable for its audience. These writers create various forms of technical documentation such as instruction manuals, information graphics, training programs or reference guides. For example, a technical writer could write a user manual explaining how to utilize a software product, proposals for a company’s financial documentation or a case study for a marketing team to more easily understand how to target their audience. Regardless of which industry a technical writer pursues, they play an important role in helping understand an audiences' user experience with their goods or services.
The skills you need to excel as a technical writer
Technical writers are experts in communicating complex technical information in a clear and understandable manner. To be effective in the role, you should possess a combination of technical and communication skills. Here are some of the most important skills that technical writers need to possess:
George Standifer, a technical writing instructor at Arizona State University’s School of Applied Professional Studies, said these are the 13 most important skills a technical writer should possess:
- Technical proficiency: Technical writers must have a good understanding of the subject matter they’re writing about. You should be able to grasp complex technical concepts and translate them into accessible language for your target audience.
- Writing skills: Strong writing skills are essential for technical writers. You should be able to write clearly, concisely and logically, using appropriate grammar and punctuation. Technical writing often requires precise and unambiguous language.
- Audience analysis: Understanding the audience is crucial. Technical writers should know who their readers are, their level of technical expertise and what they expect from the documentation. This helps tailor the content to suit the audience's needs.
- Organizational skills: Technical documentation can be extensive, so technical writers must be skilled at organizing information. Creating logical structures, using headings, subheadings and bullet points to make the content easily navigable is essential.
- Attention to detail: Accuracy is paramount in technical writing. Writers need to be meticulous in verifying facts, data and technical specifications before including them in the documentation.
- Collaboration: Technical writers often work with subject matter experts, engineers, developers and other stakeholders. Collaborative skills are necessary for gathering information and clarifying technical details.
- Adaptability: Technology is constantly evolving and technical writers must keep up with the latest advancements. Being adaptable to change and learning new tools and technologies is important.
- Visual communication: The ability to use visuals effectively, such as diagrams, charts and images, can enhance the understanding of technical concepts and improve the overall user experience.
- Knowledge of documentation tools: Technical writers should be familiar with various documentation tools and software, such as Microsoft Word, Adobe products such as FrameMaker, InDesign and Photoshop, or other authoring tools commonly used in the industry.
- User empathy: You’ll need to understand the end-users' perspective and empathize with their challenges. This will allow you to create user-friendly documentation that addresses their needs and concerns.
- Information architecture: Knowing how to structure content and create effective navigation paths in both printed and online documentation is vital for user accessibility.
- Quality assurance: Reviewing and editing your work for clarity, correctness and consistency is essential to maintain the quality of the documentation.
- Compliance and regulatory awareness: Depending on the industry, technical writers may need to be aware of specific regulations, standards and compliance requirements that affect the documentation.
Where do technical writers work?
Technical writers can work in many technical industries ranging from information technology to healthcare manufacturing and more. Writers can choose to pursue working full time for an organization or working independently for many companies as a freelancer. Depending on which industry a writer works in can determine their physical working environment. Some roles may require writers to work in the office daily to collaborate with other team members, where some may allow a hybrid or remote schedule. The work environment can also be dependent on the type of products or services an organization is promoting. If the organization is primarily focusing on digital services, the majority of work may already be done online, allowing for more flexibility. However, if the company is a product-based organization such as engineering, the employer may require writers to become familiar working hands-on with the products they are writing about.