Technical Writing 101: Here’s What You Need to Know to Get Started
Have you noticed the rising popularity of technical writing work in your field?
Maybe you’ve wondered what’s out there for a skilled communicator with a passion for learning. Fortunately, technical writers, also called technical communicators, are found in virtually every industry and utilize a limitless variety of skillsets.
If you have a knack for conveying information, there’s a technical writing position for you.
OK. So what is technical writing?
At the end of the day, a technical communicator can be thought of as a translator and teacher in one package.
The tech writer’s duties often can be boiled down to the following process: Research and become knowledgeable in the subject, determine the target audience and style, and, finally, compose the information in a way that can be readily understood by the audience.
Although most tech writing involves these practices, the duties drastically can vary from one communicator to the next. The reason? Each project requires a custom approach.
The types of communication used by tech writers virtually is unlimited and certainly involves much more than just writing.
Final products can include instruction manuals, laboratory reports, legal documentation, equipment diagrams, video tutorials, databases, press releases, grant proposals, white papers, or any other medium that can convey information.
Who needs a technical writer?
Industries that need technical writers are just as diverse, from scientific research to computer manufacturing to product sales.
Ultimately, however, every company has information that needs to be communicated between departments and organizational hierarchy. Technical communication is perfectly suited for these cases.
Technical communicators, as the name suggests, should be strong communicators.
If you’re looking to break into the world of tech writing, it’s a good idea to practice writing detailed documentation. Although much of this work is technical in nature, don’t underestimate the importance of a solid grasp of rhetoric and creative thinking!
A powerful tech writer knows that effective communication is interesting communication.
In that respect, a crucial tool in a tech writer’s repertoire is understanding the audience. Before you write a single word down, there are crucial questions to ask: How much knowledge does the user have of the subject? What are they trying to achieve by reading the work? How will the audience be viewing it? Which tone will they be the most responsive to?
I like what I’m hearing. Now what?
It should come as no surprise that technical writers must be adaptable.
An effective communicator should be able to adjust his or her tactics to best fit the work to the objective.
Subject matter will vary and deliverables can change with every product. It’s crucial to stay excited about learning, as projects will consistently involve topics that require a bit of research.
You will be having conversations with subject matter experts (SMEs) to become so familiar with a topic that you could explain it to literally anyone. A background or education in one of these technical fields certainly is a bonus, but many tech writing positions will train the writer on the subject.
Technical communicators, however, will go beyond writing. Data often is best conveyed visually, so it’s essential to get experience creating charts, infographics, and tables. In some cases, you even may be tasked with creating a website for your project. Being experienced with a variety of software and knowledgeable about technology will be a great boon, not only for design, but also with usability.
These skills make a technical communicator a jack of all trades who is involved along the entire process of a project. If you’re flexible, have a strong attention to detail, know how to explain complex problems, and always are open to learning something new, you will make a fantastic technical communicator!
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Thomas Nicholson is a Customer Content Specialist with PR Newswire and science aficionado with a love for all things nerdy.