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Technical writer

Definition

What is a technical writer?

Technical writers are individuals who are adept at communicating complex technical information in terms easily understood by laypeople. These writers break down complex, often industry-specific data into more digestible output.

Technical writers are usually employed to write manuals, guides, or infographics for end-users unfamiliar with a particular industry’s jargon. They utilize graphs, charts, headings, and other tools that will make the presentation of complex information more understandable.

Historically, the only sectors that required technical writing were those in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

However, other sectors have caught on to the importance of letting the general public understand the inner workings of their fields. Other economic sectors like business and finance have also begun employing technical writers to bridge the gap between them and their clients.

Today, almost every company from every sector has technical writers to curate their websites and other writing-related output.

technical writer
What is a technical writer?

How does a technical writer differ from other writers?

Although technical writers possess the same basic skills necessary for all writers, such as a good grasp of their medium language and its grammar rules, several distinctions separate them from other more generalist writers or even journalists.

While writers commonly write to inform, they often do so to push an agenda; this is something that technical writers avoid.

Technical writers write with the sole purpose of giving their readers the information they need. Whether writing about a product, service, or company, technical writers will present necessary data with clinical detachment and professionalism.

Technical writers never infuse their writing with emotions or input their own opinion. Moreover, these writers refrain from leaving any information to their readers’ imaginations.

Instead, they provide them with complete and, if necessary, step-by-step details condensed into an easily understandable format. The outputs produced by technical writers are detailed enough to communicate even trivial data clearly to readers and let them recreate processes if there are any.

What are the usual topics of technical writers?

Technical writers produce a variety of content depending on the nature of their company. Their content may include business or finance reports, technical journals, instructional manuals, operating procedure guides, and specialized product descriptions.

Technical writers are sometimes confused with business writers due to some overlap between the two’s topics. However, business writing is much broader than technical writing, and while all technical writing is business writing, not all business writing is tech writing.

As mentioned earlier, businesses and companies in STEM fields are the most common employers of technical writers, but other sectors have started employing them as well.

A technical writer’s expected output often depends on which sector their company or business operates. The industry they’re writing for also affects the general style of their writing.

For example, a technical writer working for a company in the healthcare sector may write clinical reports or medical procedures. In this context, the technical writer’s audience is familiar with and knowledgeable about what they’re writing.

Because the writer’s readers are familiar with his topic, the content can be more complex than when writing for the general public.

In contrast, a technical writer writing software documentation for end-users with no technical background or experience would make their output more straightforward and easily understandable. They simplify explanations and avoid unnecessary jargon when catering to non-industry-savvy readers.

What are the usual topics of technical writers?

What skills should technical writers possess?

Technical writers take complex information and make it understandable to lay readers. To do this, they themselves must first have an understanding of their subject matter.

To be successful in their job, technical writers must have the following:

Willingness to learn

Technical writers often come with prior technical background before delving into writing. Firsthand knowledge and experience are essential in technical writing to make the writing process more manageable.

However, some are already writers who have decided to take up technical writing. While non-technical writers can transition into technical writing, their lack of prior specialized training and knowledge makes the learning curve steeper.

Being willing to spend hours learning new skills and information is critical to achieving success as a technical writer.

Audience empathy

It isn’t enough that a technical writer has knowledge and understanding of their subject. Equally important is their ability to translate this knowledge into informative bits that the casual reader can understand.

Technical writers must always keep in mind that what’s common knowledge to them is not the same for everyone else.

As discussed earlier, the reader’s level of knowledge about the subject contributes to how the content would ultimately be presented.

Organization skills

Technical writing involves taking in large amounts of information and presenting them in a way that’s easy to understand.

Knowing how to utilize charts, graphs, headings, etc., is vital for making a clearer and more presentable organization of ideas. 

Presenting information in an organized manner makes it more digestible for readers, as opposed to bombarding them with walls of text or equations.

Strong research skills

Gathering and analyzing data from multiple sources is one of the most crucial and time-consuming aspects of technical writing.

Technical writers may spend hours poring over case studies and other published materials before going into the actual writing process.

Hence, aspiring technical writers must have the mental fortitude to conduct heavy research.

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