Five Things Technical Writers Need to Know


The average person doesn't know that there are different types of writers. There are copywriters, content marketers, columnists, academic writers, grant writers, novelists, ghostwriters, poets…the list goes on and on. Each of these writers possesses unique skill and focus on different areas of writing expertise.

Along with the aforementioned, there are also technical writers. Their job focuses on creating technical documentation, which can be in the form of instruction manuals, online help, white papers or system manuals, to name a few.




The job of a technical writer is not easy. Most of their writing has to be confined to specific document requirements (meaning no creative flair), it must be specific (generalizing is usually not allowed) and it must be specific (no skipping steps). It's a difficult job, and below are five things all technical writers need to know.

1. How to Communicate
This seems like a no brainer. It is true that in order to be a technical writer, one must know how to write. People rely on technical writer’s for in-depth and specific information. Their writing needs to be clear and detailed.

Along with writing, technical writers need to know how to communicate in other ways. Their job requires them to know the ins and outs of products and to know specific step-by-step instructions on how things work. In order to get this information, they need to communicate with others. Technical writers conduct plenty of interviews in order to get all the information they need to produce quality and thorough work.

2. Subject Knowledge
Before a technical writer can write about a product, they need to know how it works. It is impossible to write a user's manual on something that they have never seen or used. Their job requires a great amount of research in order to ensure they are properly addressing the topic or product. 

It also requires detail. If a technical writer is creating an instruction manual, they have to include every step in the correct order. Missing one step or forgetting one detail can nullify their entire project.

3. How to Use Different Software
Technical writers can write for a variety of mediums. They may write a user's manual that will be printed in book form, they may write instructions for a postcard, and they may write an online help desk section for a website. Because of the variety, technical writers need to know how to utilize different software. They may have to know Microsoft Office for their basic tasks, but they may also need to know Adobe Photoshop to edit necessary images for their work. If their work will be an online piece, they may need to know Adobe Fireworks. It's important for technical writers to have a grasp on multiple software to ensure they can tackle all mediums.

4. Wikis
A wiki is a website that allows users to make edits to its content. The largest wiki example is that of Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that allows users to add content to specific topic (with references, of course).

Wikis are a great tool for technical writers because it gives them the ability to post their knowledge in one convenient location. Wikis can also be a great collaboration tool, allowing technical writers to post notes on their topic with one another.

5. HTML5
Many websites are converting to HTML5, so it's important for technical writers, especially those who write for the Internet, to know. It may take some time to learn, especially if they're unfamiliar with HTML in general, but with so many hard copy publications switching to digital formats, it is beneficial for all technical writers to know how to write at the least the basic form of code.

Technical writing takes a lot of skill, and having a good grasp on effective writing, knowledge on the subject and experience in a multitude of mediums will make a technical writer’s skill even stronger.

About Author

Charlie Adams is a tech guru and internet fanatic working as a consultant in the Las Vegas area. Charlie is a grammar fanatic and always insists his colleagues use a grammar checker to ensure their writing meets a high grammatical standard. He often consults with his internation clients using an international cell phone.

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Oracle Apps Guy: Five Things Technical Writers Need to Know
Five Things Technical Writers Need to Know
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