What Does A Technical Writer Do (And What Is It Anyway?)

Technical Writing

In short, a technical writer is someone who communicates complex information about a topic in a clear and concise manner so that it can be understood by their audience, usually a non-technical audience. Technical writing often is writing owners manuals, process documentation, instruction manuals, and bid or grant proposals.

Technical writing is often confused with tech writing, but they are vastly different. Tech writing is writing about technology and the application of that technology. Although a technical writer can write about technology, they often write about many other topics. A tech writer writes solely about technology and its applications.

What Do Technical Writers Do?

Technical writers are often tasked with writing content about products or processes. Because of this, technical writers often perform a great deal of research before they write on the topic. Technical writers study products and processes, they often consult with experts on the topic that they’re writing about, and they need the ability to take very detailed and complex information and break it into reports or articles that the average person can understand.

When a technical writer is tasked with a subject, they will begin their assignment by thoroughly researching the product or process that the job is about. There will be hours spent on their research, usually, and the technical writer will oftentimes call upon an expert on the topic so the writer can ask them any questions that aren’t answered in their research. The technical writer will also study the actual product or process in use so that they have a thorough understanding of it from beginning to end.

After the technical writer performs the research necessary to write on the subject, they may write several drafts and consult with industry experts or panels to ensure that their draft is a thorough, detailed and easy to follow rendition on the topic. As the ultimate goal for the technical writer is the ability to be universally read and understood, it may need to be revised several times before the text is ready to be published.

The Difference Between Technical Writers And Other Types Of Writers

Although technical writers can have a lot in common with other types of writers, technical writing is a niche all its own. Technical writers must be able to:

  • Write and edit technical documents, using both words and visual aids to explain difficult concepts, often to non-technical audiences.
  • Technical writers must study products and processes, consult with product and process experts, and also produce, maintain and test documentation.
  • In addition to having great writing skills, technical writers must also possess technical knowledge on the topics they write about.
  • Technical writers often produce work products such as instruction manuals, process documentation, grant proposals, bid proposals, and owners manuals, just to name a few.
  • Technical writers are often the authors of “white papers”, in depth write-ups of a company or product.

While other writers possess some of these skills, typically they do not undertake such in depth and difficult subject matter. For instance, a ghostwriter may write a technical paper for a client, but a ghostwriter doesn’t specialize in technical papers. A ghostwriter could also write ebooks, web copy, white papers, and general how-to articles in addition to writing a technical paper. Their writing will vary per client, and they typically write in the format that the client is requesting for that particular job.

Blog writers also may possess technical knowledge, depending on the topic of the blog they’re writing, but they don’t consider themselves technical writers. Blog writers often make use of SEO practices when they write articles, blog posts, and interviews, in order to affect the standing of the blog rank. Typically, technical writers do not concern themselves with SEO practices due to the fact that the content they produce is necessary to the audience the content is written for, but isn’t often searched for by other audiences.

Copywriters need impeccable writing and editing skills as well, however, the content that they are writing is very different from the content technical writers produce. Copywriters write content for print, digital, television and social media. Typically, copywriters will contribute a mix of those mediums as they are needed for advertising purposes as the client requests. As technical writers don’t typically contribute to advertising copy, their content is quite different from the content that copywriters are asked to write.

As discussed earlier, tech writing is often confused with technical writing, but they are different in many ways. In tech writing, a writer will write about technology and the application of that technology. Although a technical writer may write about an aspect of technology and its application, it doesn’t need to be related to technology in any way in order to be technical writing. Conversely, tech writers write solely about topics that are related to technology and the application of that technology.

Necessary Skills For Technical Writers

The skills that are necessary for technical writers to be successful in their field include:

  • The ability to perform thorough research on advanced topics
  • The ability to discuss advanced topics with experts in that particular field
  • The ability to write about advanced topics in a way that can convey the matter to most audiences without the topic being too technical to be understood
  • The ability to write using both words and visual aids to produce print matter like owners manuals, process documentation, and bid proposals

Although there are other aspects to technical writing, this article encapsulates the typical responsibilities and duties that technical writers often work within. Technical writers are often experts in the field that they write about, such as retired engineers or accountants who now write about the topics of engineering or accounting instead of currently working in the field. Technical writers that once worked in the field that they now write about are incredibly valuable and are often sought after for the knowledge and expertise that they bring to the technical writing on the subject.