Writing AdviceWriting, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2018

So, What Exactly Does a Technical Writer Do?

ResearchProf

A technical writer is an information communicator who uses his or her technical knowledge to create instructional and technical manuals, assessments, and training guides. A technical writer is also responsible for organizing content into a document to be easily understood by laymen. Technical writers carry out research, create, and deliver information through a variety of media, such as print, electronic, and audio-visual.

Professional technical writers represent a valuable resource for managers and technical staff for accomplishing their communications goals, as technical writers create manuals, online help, white papers, project plans, design specifications, and software test plans. With a rise in e-learning, they are also asked to create online training material. Technical writers also assist manufacturers, designers, companies, and clients in developing technical information. Computer and engineering companies often hire technical writers on a full-time basis because they specialize in writing technical topics that include medical procedures, computer applications and environmental regulations.

Technical writers assist companies by writing instruction manuals for devices
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Duties of technical writers

Traditionally, technical writers are synonymous with engineering writers because they perform technical writing in engineering-related industries, such as consumer electronics, aerospace, construction, chemical processing, instrumentation and controls, defense, and many others. Thus, technical writers stress accuracy rather than ideas to produce an accurate, concise, useful, clear, and complete technical documentation. Technical writers should possess editing and proofreading skills to deliver documents that are free of grammatical and stylish errors. Additionally, successful technical writers must write clear and well-organized technical reports.

As revealed by Al-Othmany et al. (2012), technical writers must use tables and graphs to present technical information. Tables, charts, and graphs are invaluable aids, to highlight patterns and clarify technical information to the intended audience. When technical writers write reports, they often use illustrations, tables, diagrams, photographs, charts, and drawings to present information more effectively, thereby assisting in providing a professional outlook of the report.

Nesbit (2011) notes that a technical writer should perform the duties of both a writer and an editor. Typically, a writer should create documents from scratch and collect data by conducting a literature search and interviews. They also draft and redraft documents by incorporating changes until the documents are completed.

The next stage in technical writing is to access the document for clarity, consistency, conciseness, and comprehensiveness, focusing on the organizational and contextual structure of the text and graphical materials. Sometimes, technical writers develop preface, acknowledgments, lists of tables and figures, an index, and a glossary. To eliminate grammatical errors from documents, technical writers correct grammatical and syntax mistakes to maintain consistency in spelling, abbreviations, and capitalization.

Although, technical writers should be proficient in all the major citation conventions, such as APA, IEEE, MLA, and Chicago styles, when preparing technical documents, IEEE is often used to cite technical documents. Thus, technical writers must become familiarized with IEEE citation style, as it is widely recognized as the preferred format for engineering documents.

Technical writers often assist product development teams in building prototypes
Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Product development and prototypes

By applying technical knowledge, technical writers may become part of a product development team, conducting product usability studies to improve product design in its prototype stage. Technical writers also carry out research from the library, through personal observation, and Internet research, or often discussions with technical specialists. Technical writers also assist in managing the consistent use of technical content across business departments, such as product development, marketing, manufacturing, and customer relations. Some technical writers prepare grant proposals for institutions and research scientists.

Technical writers collect information from users to determine their needs before developing technical documents. Many companies seek for the services of technical writers for product descriptions. Technical product description involves studying product samples and developing a structured format to present information about the product, which is eventually used for marketing purposes.

User-friendly manuals

Technical writers also create user manuals for machines, software, and physical devices. Typically, it is challenging for manufacturing companies to sell their products without user guides or manuals. Thus, technical writers develop user-friendly guides or manuals that layman can understand to guide users on the use of products. Moreover, technical writers work together with computer support specialists, software engineers, and hardware engineers for the easy flow of information to the project stakeholders during product development and testing. Therefore, technical writers should understand complex information, communicating this information in English that people from different professional backgrounds can understand.

The Society of Human Resources Management notes that technical writers develop a framework to maintain efficiency and consistency in technical writing methodology. By following this methodology, technical writers prepare documentation regarding system operations, programming, and user documentation. Technical writers also write plans and maintain user support documentation. To perform these duties efficiently, they must possess technical capabilities, communication proficiencies, organization skills initiatives, teamwork orientation, problem-solving skills and thoroughness.

Torin (2018) notes that technical writers are often asked to produce technical documents for engineers or technicians. For example, an organization may decide to develop in-house software. They will require a guide that explains step-by-step how to implement the software. Thus, technical writers create documents that will guide engineers in developing this software that meets the company expectations. Torin also revealed that technical writers develop guides for a product. They describe how people use this product without immersion in technical details.

Technical writers write user-friendly manuals
Photo by Aleks Dorohovich on Unsplash

Tools of the technical writer

Generally, technical writers must produce reader-friendly documents that bridge the gap between writers and the target audience. Thus, writers should organize their materials in a clear and logical pattern to enhance user readability. However, technical writers must be proficient in the major technical writing tools to prepare professional writing documents. Using the right tools will make technical writing easy.

Microsoft Word® is one of the best technical writing tools to create professional writing work, as it includes an automatic spell checker, track changes, pre-loaded document templates and the ability to save work in PDF, XPS, RTF, plain text format, and many more. Technical writers should also be proficient in image editing tools (Adobe Photoshop®), and publishing tools (Adobe FrameMaker®, RoboHelp®). Adobe RoboHelp is an industry standard authoring tool assisting in creating help systems for web-based applications or desktop. A technical writer should also know how to use a spell check tool. Other tools that can assist technical writers to create professional documents are:

  • Notepad++
  • WordPress®
  • Microsoft Visio®

Important qualities of a technical writer are critical thinking skills, being detail-oriented, technical skills, and writing skills. A technical writer must understand highly complex information and explain this technical information in a clear manner. A technical writer should also follow the ethical and legal considerations when preparing a document. They must be familiar with the law related to trademark, copyright, liability, and contract. They should not write a document that could mislead readers. They must understand areas of law related to proposals, agreement, and project descriptions.

Technical writers must also follow the required methodology when creating technical documents. The document development life cycle (DDLC) is generally used to prepare documents, which involves gathering information through interviews, studying existing materials or often using products. The DDLC consists of six phases:

  • Identification of audience
  • Analyze information and tasks based on the target audience
  • Information architecture
  • Develop/prepare documents
  • Technical and editorial reviews
  • Publish the document

Job outlook for technical writers

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals that demand for technical writers is increasing by 10% yearly, projected to increase more than 11% annually by 2026 faster than the national average. A technical writer should have a college degree, often specialize in the fields, such as engineering, computer science, and web design. A job growth for a technical writer is driven by the rapid expansion of technical and scientific products. However, technical writers who can produce training guides and user manuals will enjoy high growth in employment opportunity in the electronics and technology industries.

Salary information

The BLS reports that technical writers earn a median pay of $34.10 per hour or $70,930 per year. However, the highest paid technical writers are those offering technical, professional and scientific services, as well as information and support services, in which their median salary reaches $72,850.

Conclusion

Technical writers are professionals who create specialized technical documents, such as medical procedures, computer applications, or environmental regulations. As technical information is increasingly being delivered online or through social media, technical writers must be ready to use interactive Web technologies to blend graphics, text, sound, multidimensional images, and video. Document design is one of the major duties of technical writers for optimal readability and usability.

Technical writers use different strategies to create user-friendly documents. When companies produce technical products, such as machines, hand tools, aircraft, hardware, software, and other machines, technical writers are asked to develop the user guides for easy understanding of machines or physical devices. In such, the job outlook of technical writers is promising because of a rise in the number of companies that require the services of technical writers.

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