What is Technical Writing?

Every time I’m asked what I do for a living, and I respond with “I am a Technical Writer for a software development company,” I get blank stares and the follow-up question; “What is that?” I can understand how most people are unfamiliar with this field, because before I stumbled upon it in college, I had never heard of it either.  But if more people knew how often they interact with tech writing in their own lives, they would be surprised. 

An assembly manual for an ikea coffee table. An online how-to guide for using the latest iphone.  Clicking the “help” icon on any of their favorite desktop applications.  These documents were written by a technical writer.  The writer works with subject matter experts (SMEs) to learn the ins and outs of the item and/or process until they have become a SME themselves.  In many cases the writer needs to have prior knowledge and experience working in a specific industry.  

“Don’t tell me how it works, tell me how to use it.” – A customer.

The main skill of a tech writer is to translate highly technical, difficult-to-understand information into the most basic language possible (layman’s terms) using an economy of words.   Tech writing is not for everyone. It takes a very detail-oriented person who can learn and think on their feet.

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” – Nathanial Hawthorne

In short, tech writers create, edit, design, and maintain documentation such as online help content, user manuals, instructions, grants, proposals, white papers, design specifications, flowcharts, process mapping, use cases, and other technical documents. 

Tech writers are often responsible for marketing, website development, recruitment, and social media networking. They work with computers and electronic publishing software (aka help authoring tools or HATs), including graphic design, page layout, and multimedia software on a daily basis.  

In software development, tech writers also perform quality assurance (QA) testing on software applications, provide graphic user interface (GUI) feedback on new development projects, act as an internal auditor for certifications.

These are just some of the main functions of my job.  The field is very diverse and can be open-ended in terms of the scope of each tech writer’s job.  I like it because it allows me to be creative and technical at the same time.  There is freedom to manage my own projects while working collaboratively with a team of developers.  If I want to learn more about web design, I can.  If I want to focus on writing grants and proposals, I can.  I am new to the software development niche, so I will be documenting my learning process throughout this blog.


2 thoughts on “What is Technical Writing?

  1. When I lived in NYC, I worked for a company that made displays. Part of my job was typing up the directions for assembling them. (“Insert Tab A into Slot B”) Now you know where you get it!

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