What is Technical Writing?

Updated on August 2nd, 2022
What is Technical Writing?

Technical writing establishes processes, such as instructional materials or software manuals. Traditionally, it was restricted to user manuals of some type.

Modern technical writing is no longer bound to user manuals. Instead, it encompasses all documentation of complex technical information and processes. In addition, it contains executive summary statements, reports, and briefs.

What is the Purpose of Technical Writing? 

The main purpose of a technical document is to deliver complex information to readers in a way that they can use and comprehend, even if they don't have previous knowledge of the subject. For example, technical writing explains how a particular object works or how to complete a task or project.

As a result, the efficiency of the products is increased, the service life of the products is extended, and the dangers associated with misuse are avoided.

Technical writing is very challenging but essential to the software development process. Technical writers help users avoid common problems and complete tasks more efficiently by providing clear and concise documentation.

What are the Examples of Technical Writing?

The following are some examples of technical writing.

End-User Manuals and Assistance Guides

Writing a user manual is a big responsibility because the finished document will be used by people who depend on it to provide them with instructions they can follow. Therefore, writing a user manual requires organizational and technical writing skills.

It includes:

  • Identifying the audience 
  • Defining the purpose of the manual
  • Identifying the how-to steps
  • Formalizing the written steps
  • Developing appropriate graphics
  • Being brief and detailed
  • Verifying accuracy
  • Formatting for readability  

Technical Documentation/Technical Reports

A technical report is a document that communicates information about technical research objectively and factically. This technical report includes three key features of research, i.e., process, progress, and results.

You can follow two approaches in a technical report, depending on what suits you best.

  • Top-down approach: In this, you structure the entire report from title to sub-sections and conclusion and then start arranging the topic in the respective chapters. This permits your thought process to have a defined flow and thus helps in time management as well.
  • Evolutionary delivery: This approach is suitable if you believe in moving with the process and flow. In this, the author decides and writes as and when the work advances. This gives you a broad thinking horizon. When some new vision or inspiration strikes, you can add and tweak certain parts.

Technical Marketing Communications

Technical marketing communications seek to make people realize they need products. It persuades the person through communication skills, and this distinction affects everything from the genre's focus to its content and medium.

Technical marketing communications work on technical, complex subject matters. It pays close attention to its target audiences and benefits from a concise, accessible writing style.

Feasibility Studies

A technical feasibility study is an analysis that considers a project's relevant factors, like technical and scheduling considerations, to ascertain the likelihood of completing the project successfully.

A technical feasibility study assesses how you intend to deliver a product or service to customers. Think materials, labor, transportation, where your business will be located, and the technology that will be necessary to bring all this together.

It includes:

  • Preparing a preliminary analysis.
  • Creating a projected income statement.
  • Conducting a market survey.
  • Making a business plan.
  • Preparing a balance sheet.
  • Reviewing data and making a decision.

Technical White Papers

A common technical white paper is a document that explains a business situation and a tech-based answer to that situation. Largely a B2B marketing tool, this type of white paper seeks to make the complex ideas dominant in the high-tech world legible to those who aren't specialists in the field.

A coherent white paper conveys to those entrusted with finding solutions as well as the decision-makers who hold the coins.

There are multiple ways to reinforce your story and support your white paper effectively, including:

  • Case studies
  • Quotes
  • Statistics
  • Links and sources for further information

Memos

A memo (or memorandum) is normally used to communicate policies or procedures within an institution. It is frequently written from a one-to-all perspective (like mass communication), broadcasting a message to an audience rather than personalized, interpersonal communication. It is also used to update a team on activities for a given project or to inform a specific group within a business of an action, event, or observance.

Technical memos include:

  • Introduction
  • Experimental
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions

What are the Benefits of Technical Writing?

There are many benefits of technical writing. Some are:

1. Clearer Communication

High-quality, well-versed documentation and manuals reflect well on the organization. Readers translate the level of competency revealed through the documentation onto the brand. In addition, many technical writers help clarify technical or specialized topics by translating developer jargon into simpler language, helping your organization meet the target audience's needs.

2. Awareness

Technical writers work to consider content from the user's perspective. Most technical writers are aware and know how to connect to your audience. They have a unique talent for understanding complex content from both the viewpoint of industry experts and the average consumer. They can understand the audience's unique needs, allowing them to create effective technical communications that resonate well.

3. Reduced Costs

A good technical writer has the knowledge and skill critical to complete a clear end-product faster with the distinct needs of the product market in mind. Eventually, well-written and clear manuals will reduce service calls to the technical support department.

4. Impartial

Having the final product manual written by in-house developer results in excessive descriptions or exaggerated benefits. While preserving a high level of an attribute is important, professional technical writing must be concise and impartial and state the facts clearly.  

Hiring a technical writer to do the job eradicates the likelihood of the manual being modified by personal interest, letting the end-user read precisely what they get.

5. Professional Formatting & Presentation 

From the document font and layout to the suitable size for charts, a technical writer is able to make the content look proficient. Documentation is one element that completes the company brand. It is just as much part of the product as its other features and needs to complement it. Logos, colors, and styles can go a long way to making the documentation look like personalized documentation.

Essential Features of Technical Writing

Some important features in technical writing include:

Step 1 - Problem Statement

The first step is to develop a problem statement that needs solving as an example of implementing the technology. While the overall purpose of a technical article is to demonstrate or detail how to apply a principle or use technology, you also need to be relatively entertaining. Having a problem statement lets you tell a story and deliver context to help you understand.

Step 2 - Research and Outline

The next phase is to do some primary research to devise a rough outline based on the previous problem statement. Most of this research and design comes from the steps you need to complete the task. This step gives a rough idea of how many words you need per step to ensure you don't go over or under any word limits too much. It also helps keep track of how much more you need to write.

Step 3 - Screenshot and Notes

This is the most time-consuming step of the process - running through from start to finish solving the problem proposed in step 1. While you must use the outline to go through these steps, you also need to take screenshots of the process and expand the outline with fairly simple notes on the steps taken. Always try and ensure that you capture every step, but also work on articles in your spare time, so sometimes parts are missed. Again, this is where screenshots help in keeping the process in mind.

Step 4 - Final Draft

With notes and corresponding screenshots in hand, the time comes to draft the final stage of the article. In this stage, you go from top to bottom and:

  • Introduce the article at the start
  • Expand the notes to make sure the problem or story comes through the process
  • Select and edit screenshots to illustrate and display the process
  • Summarise and put together the next steps at the end

Throughout this stage, you need to try and keep the word count as succinct as possible but don't be overly worried about word count or length. It is more important to get consistent, clean work first.

Step 5 - Follow, Edit and Finalise

The final step is to clear the environment setup to compose the piece and follow your instructions and rules, preferably a day or two after the finalized, finished draft. This is to help ensure that you do not miss any step or mask over something important. Of course, you will sometimes miss some small steps that are crucial for readers to echo your journey, but this step helps diminish this as much as possible. It also allows you to flesh out or trim down your article to bring it back in line with the word limit.

Conclusion

Good technical writing results in relevant, useful, and accurate information geared to targeted audiences to cultivate a set of moves on the part of the audience in quest of an established goal. 

The goal can be using a software application, operating industrial equipment, preventing accidents, safely consuming packaged food, assessing a medical condition, complying with a law, coaching a sports team, or any of an infinite range of possible activities. If the activity requires expertise or skill to perform, then technical writing is a necessary component.

FAQs

What is the difference between technical writing and business writing?

A business writer focuses on case studies, business plans, e-books, and sales or marketing collateral. They are experts in business management and strategy. 

In contrast, technical writers have a strong aptitude in the field of IT, science, or engineering. They are tasked with compiling technical documents such as instruction manuals and other instructional materials, guidebooks, technical product descriptions, and research reports.

What is the difference between technical writing and academic writing?

Technical writing provides clear and detailed information about the service and product. In contrast, academic writing focuses on proving a theory or perspective in one way or the other and highlights one specific subject.

What is the difference between technical writing and creative writing?

Creative writing is a piece of writing for entertainment and education. It focuses on creative and symbolic content, publishing creative papers to entertain, provoke, and inspire the user. However, technical writing is not done to amuse the reader. Instead, it is used to inform someone. Therefore, some technical articles are sometimes made to trigger the reader to take action.

What technical writing tools should I learn?

In general, learn style languages and markup more than a specific tool since languages have a more far-reaching application than specific tools. The most valuable markup and style languages are CSS, HTML, and XML. You can find resources to understand these languages online.

Should I get a technical writing certificate or degree?

If you are in a place in life where education fits smoothly into your schedule, then go for it. For example, if you have the money and time, and are interested in a degree, take advantage of the option. But, eventually, it is hard to get a master's degree in technical communications.

However, a technical communication certificate or degree is not necessary to get a job in technical writing. So if you are not in a situation where education suits your schedule and budget, don't worry too much about it. 

Few professional technical writers have official degrees, specifically in this field anyway. So instead, focus your efforts on developing a strong portfolio with examples demonstrating your knowledge and skills.

How do I get employment in technical writing with no experience?

If you do not have any experience, volunteer your technical writing skills with an open source application, such as WordPress. For example, add or rewrite the information in the WordPress Codex. Alternatively, you need to create instructions for a product you use, such as your phone or camera.

The exact product doesn't so matter much. However, interviewers will be interested to see your writing style, ability to articulate complex concepts, mastery of advanced tools to author the information, sense of organization and detail, and more.

What are the tools that I need for technical writing?

You can purchase software including MadCap Flare or Confluence. 

Download trial versions of the software. However, the trials end after thirty days, so you have a limited opportunity to learn the software during this time. Of course, you can reformat your laptop every thirty days and install the latest trial versions, but doing so would avoid the idea of a trial and be a major pain.

You can try using open source substitutes, but employers seek knowledge of specific tools, especially industry-standard ones. In addition, when you invest so much energy and time in learning a new software tool, you want this time to have a more significant payback.=

Employers want forthcoming employees to know industry standard tools such as Photoshop over Gimp, Microsoft Word over Open Office, Camtasia Studio over Camstudio, etc. However, if open source is your sole alternative, it is better than nothing.

How can I get a job as a technical writer?

Obtaining your first and foremost job as a technical writer is the hardest job to get, but the jobs after you are established in the field become much easier. 

These are the following steps to getting a job as a technical writer:

  • Build up your knowledge of languages and tools. For example, learn CSS, HTML, and XML. Also, learn graphics tools, a help authoring tool, a page layout tool, and a video recording tool.
  • Create a portfolio of your sample technical writing works. For example, create a how-to guide, a quick start guide, online help, and a video tutorial.
  • Recognize your strengths and build further specializations. These domains might include video tutorials, usability, information architecture, marketing, e-learning, content strategy, project management, or other hybrid skills.
  • Start a blog to document experiences and insights about the tech communications field. A blog will show your enthusiasm for the field, provide evidence of your knowledge, and let employers get an understanding of your writing, engagement, and intelligence.
  • Research the organizations you want to work for and identify a good fit for your talents. After analyzing the companies, create customized cover letters that present a case for why you would be a suitable fit for the company. Although custom cover letters take a while to make, they are a powerful measure of your writing knacks and skills. Taking the duration to write a custom cover letter will surely get a prospective employer's attention.
  • Apply for the jobs. There are a lot of job sites available online.

Is there a permanent documentation style to stick to?

No, the style guide used per assignment relies greatly on you and the organization you work with. However, if you are working on a private task, you can experiment with various style guides and notice which one sticks. 

On joining a company, some companies heed Microsoft's style guide. Some follow Gatsby StyleGuide, diataxis, or Google technical writing guides

There are no fixed rules. You can make your style guide and observe the world of technical writers adapt it.

Can I write for users and developers, or do I need to choose one?

You can write for both groups, but you will need to write for both groups often in your career as a technical writer. Learning to understand how to write for a specific audience is a crucial skill to have as a technical writer, and if you can write to suit both audiences, you are good to go.

The two major groups consist of:

Developers: 

  • You write internal documentation for a team of developers you work with. This documentation covers tools, APIs, and processes that the engineers on your team use. 
  • You create internal wikis and a knowledge base for your engineering team.
  • You document 
  • Write external documentation for developers using your company's API, tools, or resources.

Users/customers:

A technical writer writes documentation for users, who can be customers or users of a product. This documentation starts with 'how-to guides,' FAQs, and tutorials. 

  • As a technical writer, you will need to work with the marketing team to produce marketing and promotional pieces.

What Should Be Considered in Technical Writing?

The most important thing in technical writing is knowing information about the document's content and subject. Furthermore, since the information conveyed by the technical writer is intended for a specific audience and purpose, it must be accurate, understandable, complete, and detailed.

Other things to consider in technical writing include:

  • The language must be plain, direct, and neutral in technical texts.
  • Terms used in the text need to be appropriate to the field and the target audience, and there cannot be any inconsistencies in terms within the text.
  • The sentences must be fluent, leave no room for interpretation, and are not misleading.
  • Use passive voice instead of active voice in sentences.
  • Use professional and formal language.
  • The format of the document must be consistent and clear.
  • Insert images, charts, and warnings correctly and precisely.
  • There must be no grammatical, logical, mathematical, or conceptual errors.

If you are new to technical writing, we recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course. You will learn the fundamentals of being a technical writer, how to dominate technical writer interviews, and how to stand out as a technical writing candidate.