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How to Become a Technical Writer: A Beginner’s Guide

There’s a very minute difference between the two and yet a very significant one. Audience analysis is done to target customers who would read your content. Understanding users is defined as to know who we are writing for, more specifically, who will use the content and not just read.

Technical writing/Overview

Technical writing is mentally-stimulating, creative work, and requires someone who is both sociable and well-read. Technical writers do not need to know how to program computers or have more than a general understanding of the technology, but they must have the ability to learn about a new product and then explain it to others. Those with training in journalism, teaching, and writing can grow to become excellent technical writers by studying the techniques of modern technical communication. Often though, engineers and technicians most familiar with the technology, product, and process can have or develop writing skills to become technical writers.

Technical writers enjoy learning and reading. They find writing comfortable, though they aren’t perfect, and typically revise their work many times. They are both creative and orderly. Most importantly, they put themselves in the end user’s position.

This introductory course covers only the most universal and important concepts in technical writing. Later courses deal in depth with areas such as business analysis, documentation management, and other advanced topics.

What do technical writers do? [ edit | edit source ]

When technical writers approach a new piece of technology, they are inwardly observing their own lack of knowledge. As they interact with and learn the software, they identify the information needs of the software users. They must be able to communicate well with programmers and customers, and extract information from them in a professional and personable manner.

A technical writer’s primary tool is language, tools such as Microsoft Word, FrameMaker, and RoboHelp; or—increasingly—free and open-source documentation software such as Wiki, are secondary considerations. In the course of their careers, technical writers learn dozens of other software packages and tools, and then teach them to others.

Worldwide, there is a strong demand for technical writers. Overwhelmingly, they use the English language. Software companies require technical and user documentation of their products, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

It’s difficult for aspiring technical writers to get “a foot in the door.” Most employers are looking for technical knowledge and demonstrated experience. Completing this course, and creating a project portfolio of completed work, will open doors to a career in technical communications.


The Essential Skills of a Technical Writer [ edit | edit source ]

The most important skill is to be able to write extended essays easily. You can test this skill on NaNoWriMo. Also be sure to use correct spelling and grammar (you cannot use GRAMMARLY, MS Word, etc etc…on the exam. And the quiz only accepts answers spelled correctly.)

You must have the potential to grasp technology. You may have a bent towards one of the sciences, and can understand the inner workings of cells or atoms. Or you may be web savvy and know how to interpret code. Or maybe you’re just curious about how things work. You can learn technologies you don’t understand, if you have the motivation. I personally enjoy learning about complicated systems. This understanding brings a sense of achievement and knowledge that is rewarding at the end of the day.

The essential skill of any technical communicator is to disambiguate. The core job is to study complicated things and explain them clearly. You can’t just pass off an explanation without understanding it completely. Writing about something, as opposed to talking about it, requires you to understand it thoroughly. Avoid passive voice and long sentence constructions. Define acronyms and avoid assumptions about what the user knows.

Interacting with SMEs is one of the most overlooked skills in technical writing. You must be able to identify and interview people who possess knowledge important to your document. You can’t be shy about going after certain people to extract information — and you can’t be too proud to ask “dumb technical questions.” Much of this interaction can come about if you’re lucky enough to simply sit near SMEs.

Technical Writing Basics [ edit | edit source ]

You can use any word processing program to create printed user guides. Free and open source software like OpenOffice and LibreOffice are good, but many employers expect you to have experience with proprietary tools such as MS Word and Adobe FrameMaker.

To create online content, you may use a proprietary program like RoboHelp for help files, or a web authoring tool for making web pages. We recommend that you also explore how platforms such as Wiki can be used for delivering user oriented instructions.

The process of developing information products in technical communication begins with ensuring that the nature of the audience and their need for information is clearly identified. From there, the technical communicator researches and structures the content into a framework that can guide the detailed development. As the information product is created, the paramount goal is ensuring that the content can be clearly understood by the intended audience and it provides the information that the audience needs in the most appropriate format.

Technical Communication is a conversation [ edit | edit source ]

“Sometimes, your users or constituents won’t know the correct question to ask. In those situations, try to think out the questions for them and answer them in advance. Provide them with the conversation starter and they’re more likely to be engaged. “And remember: People don’t have an infinite amount of time. They really will only participate in the conversation long enough to get their answer. Therefore, all your communication, whether it’s real time or not, needs to be concise, clear, and efficient. Don’t provide lots and lots of text that users will balk at when they see.”

Technical communication is the act of translating between user and developer, with the technical writer as translator. The technical writer understands what the developer wants to explain to the user about using the product, thus the technical writer bridges the communication gap between user and developer.

Technical Writing Myths [ edit | edit source ]

  1. Technical writers spend most of their time writing.
  2. You can’t get a job in technical writing unless you have technical writing samples, but you won’t have samples until you have a job in technical writing.
  3. A technical writer who has years of experience is more knowledgeable than one with fewer years of experience.
  4. The tools you know are more important than your industry knowledge.
  5. Be careful about having a blog, because all employers google you and will find it.
  6. Technical writing academics are disconnected from the profession, and have only a tenuous idea about the actual practice of technical writing.
  7. You can’t have voice or style in technical writing. It must be objective. And the fewer contractions, the better.
  8. Technical writers aren’t allowed to contact users directly. They should get their information through the product manager, customer support, and marketing.
  9. You can single-source material into all the formats your audience needs if you just learn the right tool or technology.
  10. You must be quite tech-savvy to be a good technical writer.

A great future [ edit | edit source ]

Business writing skills are useful for technical writers. All technical writers must write clearly, and communicate well with specialists. The field of Technical Writing is large and can be hard to define. For this reason these lessons concentrate mostly on technical writing for the software industry.

The technical writing process

It may surprise you to discover that the technical writing process can take just as much (or more!) time to plan and review than to write. The planning phase sets you up for success and makes your writing time more effective. The review phase is essential to ensure your document is technically accurate and audience-accessible.

Before you start to type one word, there are crucial preparation steps that will define your document. If you start writing and then try to edit your way into a usable technical document, you will only cause yourself headaches. Start smart by preparing first.

1. Project preparation

The project planning process begins when the technical document is requested. This step may be initiated by an employer, colleague, or client. (For ease of reading, the person who requested the document will be referred to simply as the client in this guide.) With the request, the initial requirements are defined: document type, subject area/content, goal, scope, and audience.

Not all of these important aspects may be clearly defined at first. Sometimes, your client might not even be sure of their own requirements! A guided conversation about the document is invaluable to ensure that you as the author understand the project. Through thoughtful questions, you can pull out this information so the project is clear and well-planned from the start.

2. Audience analysis

The target audience is always at the forefront of the technical writer’s mind. The reader defines the text. Generally, the technical information does not change. The only thing that changes is how those facts are conveyed. A good technical writer revises the text based on the reader’s context.

3. Understand the user

In order to know who you are writing for, you have to gather as much information as possible about who will use the document. It is important to know if your audience holds expertise in the field, if the topic is totally new to them, or if they fall somewhere in between.

The audience will also have their own expectations and needs. You must determine what the reader is looking for when they begin to read the document. The reader’s goal will guide the entire writing process, as the document should fill their needs and answer their questions.

For example, if you are writing a financial proposal for a pilot R&D program to remotely control home heating from a smartphone, your audience might be an executive deciding the next year’s company budget. In order to properly prepare the technical proposal, you need to know the executive’s knowledge levels of the research area. In addition, it would be beneficial to know his or her top financial concerns, the business factors that are normally used in decision making, and the timeline.

This executive audience is totally different than the end-user of that remotely controlled home heating program. Perhaps the R&D produces a new software to remotely control home heating from a smartphone. The audience, in this case, is reading the software user manual. As the writer, you need to understand what the average, unfamiliar user of this software knows about using their smartphone and their home heating system. You need to know their initial questions, the likely problems, and the most effective solutions in order to write a useful document.

4. User experience

Now that you know your audience and their needs, keep in mind how the document itself services their needs. There can be a tendency for experts to craft a document that shows their depth of knowledge and to compile it in a way that is appealing to their own peer group. It’s an easy mistake that ignores how the actual reader will use the document.

mind-map-graphic-for-technical-writingPlanning your document

Technical information is complex. A lot of factors need to be considered, but not all will be included in the final product. While there are various ways to process all this information, we recommend developing it in a mind-map. With a mind-map, you can include a wide range of information, highlight relationships and have a high-level, visual overview before you start writing.

It’s essential to get this process right. To see the planning process in action, check out the following video. As an excerpt from our Technical Report Writing Course, it highlights the planning process for a technical report using a mind-map:

Mind Mapping Software Demo

Consulting with experts

Consultation with specialists is critical. Experts will provide additional or parallel information that will make the information more useful to the end reader. They may be colleagues, client contacts, or external experts who are authorities on your topic.


You need to understand that not everyone can be a perfectionist but with little effort every day one can truly achieve immensely. You might not attain all the skills at once or you may succeed in some and fail in others. All you need to do is to keep your learning as your only priority.

Ans. In technical writing, you are required to convert complex information into a coherent form. It is different from other forms of writing like business writing or creative writing or academic writing or scientific writing. It encompasses a subject relating to documentations which often calls for explanations or directions.

Ans. Technical writers work for multi-disciplines in an organization. Their job may also depend on different industries or sectors. These writers together with technical staff draft out the technical information to the user audience for their easy understanding and usage.

Ans. No, you do not require any degree or diploma in the technical field to become a technical writer. However, appropriate skills and knowledge about technical areas are definite and important to work as a technical writer.

Ans. Technical writing is indeed a well-paying job. In fact, it has one of the highest pay scales among various forms of writing. A technical writer working for a corporate firm may earn between 4-5 lakhs per annum. However, if you are an expert your wage would go even higher with your experience. Writers working as freelancers also make a good sum of money depending on their number of clients.

Ans. To become a technical writer, you need to learn and perfect some basic skills in technical areas. One can easily learn about digital tools from different online courses. Writing skills have to be very polished for a job as a technical writer. Niche specialization may help you the most in the journey of technical writing.



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