Technical writing has the magical ability to turn complex documents and subjects into guides that users can understand. It transforms the information from complicated industries, like medical and engineering, into organized facts that non-specialists can use. The act of technical writing is hard, mostly because the writers sometimes struggle to translate the concepts between consumers and developers.
In this article, we’ll look at the prime concepts of good technical writing and the skills that a writer needs to produce the best content. Here’s a list of key themes:
- Defining technical writing
- The different types of technical documents
- Tools for effective communication and presentation
- The skills of an excellent technical writer
- Tips and tricks
A Definition For Technical Writing
Technical writing takes dull, complex documents and processes and transforms them for a target audience. The final result could be standard operating procedures (SOP) or a guide on using specific software. When it comes to the business environment, it can also relate to financial estimates and figures for upper management.
A company hires a technical writer to create these technical documents. Finding the right person for the job is challenging, as not everyone has the skill and personality to grasp the main concepts and translate them into simpler terms. For this reason, these writers often charge enormous fees for their services.
Types of Technical Writing
A few years ago, technical writing consisted of software or process guides, and there weren’t many types involved. It has since evolved, growing into a large number of different technical documents. There are three main categories, which we’ll explore below.
It may sound like this category covers the general scope of technical documents, but the target audience is professionals in different industries. The output consists of research, guides, and repair manuals. It can also involve editorial-type guides. There are two main sections for traditional projects.
The first section consists of scientific and medical papers. Experts in this industry struggle to relay their ideas and findings to managers or critical partners. At the end of the day, they rely on technical writers who have the ability to present the content in a way that’s easily understood.
Writers also create content for the educational and business sectors in the form of reports and reviews. It may reflect the company’s status or project activity reports. They present it in a way that managers can study and use the info to improve their business.
If you’ve ever read a product description for how to use the item, you’ve come across a prime example of end-user technical writing. It informs the reader on how to perform actions or the best way to operate it. It takes all the expert subject matter and turns it into content that the average person can understand.
The first type of end-user technical writing is the help guide. It specifically relates to software and how to perform certain tasks. It also answers frequently asked questions about the program or website. The technical writer will break it down into smaller portions so that the user can go straight to the relevant section.
You may be more familiar with the second type of technical writing. It consists of product manuals, the small booklets that you find in the box when you buy the item. It describes different aspects, such as maintenance, general features, and how to use it.
Finally, there are assembly guides. Technical writing presents a user-friendly document that explains how to put something together. There are precise details of where each part goes and how to connect the entire system. If this guide isn’t written correctly, the user will quickly become upset.
Most commercial and online businesses turn to this form of technical writing. It takes subject matter details from experts and changes them into promotional content. Let’s have a quick look at the three main sections of this category.
White papers and case studies help to show the success of a business or service. It highlights user problems and reveals how the product can provide solutions. Case studies also explain how a solution helped a company reach its goals.
When it comes to business-to-business (B2B) solutions, technical writing consist of pitches and proposals. The writer takes the information given by the expert and presents it as a summary to key partners. The most common types of papers include business plans and mission statements.
The final marketing format is brochures. These pamphlets or papers may be small, but they’re packed with vital information. The writer’s job is to make sure that all the essential data is included in a way that looks attractive and is easy to understand.
Technical Writing Tools
Many technical writers make use of software programs to assist them with their projects. Both beginners and experts find them helpful in keeping tabs on technical documents and communications with subject matter specialists. While there’s a vast array available, here are some of the more popular ones.
- FrameMaker: Adobe software that writers use to create and edit technical documents
- Visio: A Microsoft program that allows for creating layouts, designs, and charts for reports and reviews.
- Photoshop: Digital software for editing and creating images, photos, and other graphics.
- SnagIt: A screenshot app that lets you capture images and audio on your computer.
The Skills Of An Excellent Technical Writer
The only way to produce good technical writing is through the skills of an excellent technical writer. This form of writing needs extra care, more than any other type, since there’s no room for error. A mistake in a medical document could mean life or death.
Here’s our overview of the top skills a good technical writer must have.
1. Clear Content
Since the writer’s task is to make technical jargon easier to understand, the content must be straightforward. It should be engaging, with enough information and a logical structure. The only reason that subject experts don’t create these papers is that they don’t have the skill to explain it in terms that others can grasp.
Therefore, the technical writer acts as the middle man. They need to be able to take in expert terms and processes and express them in a way that their family members and friends can read. It’s a difficult task, which is why you need the right person for the right industry.
2. Target Audience
You also need a technical writer who knows how to address the correct target audience. Let’s take a software user guide, for example. There’ll be more detail for managers than for staff. The former will ask questions relating to their business, while the latter will want to know how it’ll affect their work.
Technical writing can either produce a single presentation to cover as many audiences as possible with sub-sections or create separate documents. The central theme is that the terms will be different, depending on who it addresses and the key concerns. You may even have to produce a process manual for the experts to streamline their tasks.
3. Alignment With Brand
Every brand has a vision, mission, goals, and key values. The company also has an image to uphold. While the document may be technical in nature, experts and managers prefer if it aligns with the brand objectives.
Let’s take the example of an emergency evacuation plan. The writer’s goal is to explain the escape processes in a way that staff and visitors understand. In the same breath, it needs to meet the company’s goals of caring for its employees and clients. Therefore, the evac plan must include the safest route and meeting place.
4. Technical Communication
It isn’t enough to be good at technical writing; sometimes, you need to step beyond the keyboard. When it comes to subject experts, you’ll need to meet with them and grasp their terminology before you can start creating your material.
If there’s a gap in communication between you and the expert, you’ll have problems explaining processes in your papers. You’re the vital link between the expert or product and the end-user. How you present the information given to you will reflect your skills as a technical writer.
5. Research And Sourcing
Speaking to experts isn’t the only source of information. There may be other sources you’ll need to contact, such as parts manufacturers or the IT team. An excellent technical writer will know who to speak to in the industry and create a network of contacts.
Research is another vital element of good technical writing. Finding the right sources online could be the key to success, especially where software details are hard to find. If you’re writing about a new product, it may be hard to find any information at all.
6. Concept Translation
Technical writing may feel like translating from one type of jargon to another. However, you also need to be able to relate the concept and ideas so that your readers will understand. It includes taking abstract notions and presenting them in a more straightforward way without losing the impact.
If the writer struggles to understand the basic concepts, they won’t be able to explain it correctly. It can cause frustration, leading to a waste of money. It’s better to hire a company with technical writers who have experience and knowledge in many areas.
7. Systematic Approach
When it comes to software programs and processes, you’ll need a different approach to regular writing. Some guides can be hundreds of pages long, which is why you should use proper structure. It ruins the experience and also fails to relay the information easily.
A guide with no system is painful to the writer, too, since they’re responsible for putting all the details together. You may lose vital content or not know where to find something. If you plan it correctly, no one will have to clean up your mess later.
8. Tech Savvy
We’ve mentioned a few tools that can aid a technical writer in creating the content. It would take months, maybe years, to use a program like MS Word to complete your work. It’s better if you have a vast knowledge of tech that can make your task more efficient.
Of course, you’ll need some web and IT savvy when it comes to HTML code and software guides. Coding knowledge will also come in handy when discussing developer processes. You’ll need to have a willingness to learn; otherwise, your project will be dead in the water before you even begin.
The client may be willing to send you on training to understand the product or services. For example, if a company has built a new API for the SAP financial system, it’ll need to educate you on how it works before you can write the manual. This training is a unique experience, which may paint you as a technical writer and a subject matter expert.
In other cases, the client may expect you to have a degree or a specific education level before hiring you. Don’t take this personally, as they have a good reason for asking for it. They’d prefer someone who knows what they’re writing about rather than wasting time and money explaining it.
10. Good Judgment
Finally, a bit of common sense never hurt anyone. There will be times when you’ll need to make a judgment call on how best to present the information. It comes down to the finer details, such as how many images to include and which stats will satisfy the readers.
Confidence can be a good thing at the right time, but don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Listen to what the experts and audience have to say, and include it in your papers. You’ll find approval quicker when all parties have come input in the final document.