What is Technical Writing?
Tools & Efficiency
Technical writing is a form of writing that helps to explain complicated and complex processes. In most cases, technical writing is a set of instructions were guide on how to complete task. When you buy a TV set at the store and it comes with a set of instructions on how to program it, those instructions are written in a technical, yet easy to understandable language.
Technical writing is used in a variety of related disciplines including:
- Information design
- Technical editing
- Technical Documentation
- Instructional design
- UX (user experience) design
Technical writing varies from fiction or journalistic writing. Its goal is to take complex information and present it to a professional or a layperson in a way that they can understand. Whether you’re trying to explain how to put something together or how to use certain software, those documents will be written in a technical language.
Definition of Technical Writing
Technical writing can be best defined by the intention and purpose of the document, which is to give instructions, rules, explanations, and/or directions for how to accomplish a task. You can write a book in a variety of different ways and styles, but if you were going to write a textbook or a how-to book that explains how to accomplish a specific task, you do so using technical writing.
The purpose of technical writing is that it varies from other writing styles to help the reader understand how to do something rather than engage them keep them involved in a story like you expect from fiction, journalistic, or academic writing. It all depends on the intention of the author. Technical writing can be engaging, but it’s purpose is to teach and not to entertain.
Why Technical Writing?
Technical writing has a specific use within our society. Unlike fiction, nonfiction, and journalistic writing, technical writing helps institutions put together information they hope to share with their employees and/or customer base. It’s designed to take complex information and share it to the layperson in a way that they can understand and follow along with instructions.
In order to process information and instructions in a way for everybody to understand, technical writing uses language that’s straightforward and to the point. Technical writing is used in manuals, guides, books, textbooks, and so much more. If done correctly, this type of writing will make something that seems too difficult to understand, but presents it in a way for everyone who might read it to follow along and accomplish a task.
Scope of Technical Writing
Technical writing has been around for a very long time. It’s scope is vast, especially now in the age of technology. A technical writer knows how to display complex information and usually is inclined towards both writing and technology fields. Just about every business and company uses technical writing to some degree, whether it’s in a workbook, a set of detailed instructions, rules and regulations, training manuals, information for customers, and so much more.
Just about every product that you buy at the store not related to food or clothing comes with a set of instructions on how to operate, organize, put together, pick up, and use the object, especially if it’s an electronic device or platform. Sometimes these instructions, in a booklet format, but when you get a brand-new cell phone and inside is a huge booklet full of every detail about that phone.
Common documents that fall under the definition of Technical Writing include:
- User manuals
- Proposals for Technical Services
- Newsletters on Technical Subjects
- White papers & other technical marketing documents
- Reports on Technical Subjects
- User assistance (FAQs)
- Training guides
- Reference materials
- Instructional materials
- Online help documentation
Considering the reach of modern technologies and the need to explain it to the layperson as it advances, the scope of technical writing is vast and continues to expand almost daily.
Technical Writing as a Part of Content Strategy
As a business person, it’s important to produce regular content to your customers. On the creative end, you may already have social networking, a blog, and the website to help share important information and data your customers need. That’s not the only type of information that needs to be shared. Technical content is an important part of any content strategy.
If you were to share with your customers and employees alike the individual goals and plans for the future of the business, as well as providing a delivery system to help support the goals, you can go a long way in engaging your customer base in a way that other content cannot do. And if done incorrectly, not sharing technical writing can lead to a lot of issues.
When you think of all the different types of content you can write, there are a few areas that must remain a priority in the back of your mind. Showing that your compliance with all regulatory and legal requirements is your number one priority and presenting the information in a technical format is a must.
Also consider the additional marketing that can be accomplished with technical writing. A lot of times technical information about potential service to help aid the customer in making a buying decision. They might want to know ahead of time the specifics of a product or service and how it works. You might want to know the dimensions, how much power it uses, among other details specific to what you do. Not having this information can lead to a lack of sales.
Becoming a Technical Writer
For the right person, technical writing can be a lucrative career with salaries from $53,000 to $98,000 per year (depending on experience) and freelance hourly rates from $40-$100 per hour. As a freelancer, technical writing can often afford a very flexible and location independent lifestyle, as writing can be performed wherever they have access to a laptop and (usually) the internet. See also my aricle here that was published on the website of the Society for Technical Communiocation.
Technical writers are expected to develop proficiency in the following skills:
- Writing skills
- Technical expertise
- Technical Writing and Authoring Tools
- Communication skills
- User experience testing skills
- Design skills
- Computer skills
- Additional Resources
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