The field of technical writing offers a lucrative career opportunity for those who are skilled in communications. Individuals enter the profession from different backgrounds and for different reasons. Some have pursued a career in writing and found a knack for communicating complex material. Others have held technical positions and made the transition into writing specifically about their areas of expertise.
What all of these professionals have in common is the ability to write about technical information in a way that their intended audience can understand and use easily. It’s a unique skill set, and one that you can learn to develop if you are considering entering the field. A good place to start is a brief online course introducing technical writing and covering the fundamentals of the discipline. If you would like to take a deeper dive, you can also find a comprehensive online course on technical writing and editing.
To give you a picture of the kinds of materials technical writers typically produce, here are some examples and some specific considerations for each:
Many products require written explanations and instructions in order for users to understand and operate them effectively. In fact, these can be such an important element of the final package that they are often considered part of the product itself. After all, what good is a feature of a software program if you don’t know how to use it? And how do you compare that software next to one that does a better job explaining the available features?
It is critical for a technical writer working in this area to write as clearly and concisely as possible, using layman’s terms and defining any required technical terminology. If you need some polish to write with a good, easily understandable style, you might benefit from a course in writing quality paragraphs and essays to get started. The output for a given product can take a variety of forms, including the following:
Often, a product will come packaged with hard-copy documentation explaining its features in detail. Increasingly, for complex products, such as software, these are becoming more rare. Instead of including in depth material, software will often include a slim guide to get users up an running. The more in depth material will then be left for third-party experts publishing on the subject or user help tools available either in the software or online.
Technical writing includes step-by-step assembly instructions, which need to be carefully crafted to ensure that the end-user can complete the steps safely and accurately.
As mentioned in reference to software, products sometimes include a brief introductory guide to get a user started on working with its features. These documents do not include comprehensive information covering all elements. Instead they focus on clear and concise directions for getting the user started. These are sometimes included in addition to a more comprehensive user manual, a practice commonly seen with cell phones and smart phones.
User help functions
Much of technical writing for end-user software documentation takes place electronically. Technical writers build interactive guides where users can look for information specifically related to a question they have about a product. This helps them troubleshoot as they encounter obstacles in using the software. It also gives them the option of reading through the guide for a more comprehensive understanding.
Again, often related to software products, and with certain kinds of hardware, third-party authors often write full length guides to help users thoroughly learn the ins and outs. If this is a goal for you as you set out into the technical writing field, you might get a headstart in a course on writing a how-to book.
Traditional technical writing
In the case of product documentation, the writing goal is most often to inform a non-expert audience. The dynamic is very different in traditional technical writing. In this situation, the technical writer is creating content for an audience of experts. Here are some examples of deliverables in this category:
Scientific and medical papers
Practicing research scientists and medical researchers often work with technical writers to complete write-ups on their studies, which will ultimately be published in journals. Other practitioners will review this information to understand the latest findings and procedures, so the material needs to reinforce the credibility of the research and accurately reflect the details of the work.
Reviews and reports
Outside of the scientific community, technical writers work in and number of fields to communicate between professionals. This can include, for instance, legal case reviews, technical diagrams and schematics, and sometimes correspondence related to technical material (briefings, memos, etc.)
Marketing content of a technical nature
While the field may sound as though its material is as objective as possible and strictly for informing audiences, technical writers also engage in persuasive content development, often working in connection with marketing and sales teams. To persuade, after all, content often needs to be precise and credible, so technical writing easily fits in.
If you need to work on the persuasive elements of your writing, you can take an online course that will teach you to enhance your techniques in persuasion. Meanwhile, here are some examples of writing you might take on within this category:
A long-form marketing project, white papers are designed to thoroughly investigate a topic that presents a problem for a specific audience. These reports will recommend a solution that highlights a company’s products.
Technical writers are often involved in expounding on details of a specific account and how they successfully met a business goal or overcame a challenge working with a company’s product.
Often, technical writers are called on for product brochures or online descriptions that go in to a deeper level of detail about how a product functions.
Many business to business sales efforts involve a formal proposal process wherein the proposer must draw out plans and specifications for a solution in detail. Technical writers often work as part of a team to handle the more technical aspects of this writing.
As you can see, the field of technical writing is broad and diverse. There are many opportunities within it for a writer who is good at working with complex information. Explore these examples and other options available, and find the area of technical writing that is best for you.