How to Be a Technical Writer
Being a technical writer might not be as glamorous as writing professions that are directly related to the entertainment industry, but it is very rewarding and the expected salary is well above average in the field. Additionally, you also get job security as the number of software or technology has risen this past decade, which means the demand for writers who will write about them are on the rise.
Unfortunately, being a technical writer is not as straightforward as simply writing well – there are specific skills that you need to learn if you want to do a good job as a technical writer. Like with any profession, there are things specific to the company you’re working for, but the things you need to learn in general include:
If writing is your profession, you have to pay close attention to grammar and structure. In creative writing, typographical and syntax errors are forgivable – they either get fixed by a proofreader or removed by an editor. Even in cases where they manage to get into print, readers can still overlook the errors and understand what the author is trying to say. In technical writing, the wrong choice of word or a typographical error could lead to a manual containing incorrect instructions or documentation containing the wrong information, which is very serious as it brings an entirely new set of problems to the fore.
Technical Know-How and Analytical Skills
As a technical writer, you need in-depth knowledge of the things that you are writing about. It is usually your job to document and instruct, and you won’t be able to do a good job if you aren’t very familiar with the topic you are writing about. You need to be able to analyze every facet of the topic that you are writing about, so that you can present it to the reader in an organized and easy to digest format.
As a technical writer, you’ll be working with various software and hardware. Not just the things that you have to write about, but the tools that you have to use in order to write – from word processors to image editors, especially in this day and age when major aspects of content creation and publishing are already moving to the web. You can’t be a good technical writer if you’re a Luddite who can’t even adjust the margins on a word processor.
A Little Bit of Social Skills
As a technical writer, you won’t be writing based exclusively on your own stock knowledge. There are times when you have to go out of your way to interview or talk to users, programmers, engineers – other people who will provide first-hand information on your topic. If you have stunted conversational skills or awkward social graces, you’ll find it hard to communicate with the people you need to talk to.
Finally, Patience and Testing Skills
In technical writing, it is not enough to produce content that “feels right.” Most of the time, the things you have to write about should have solid proof, testable, or have results that are repeatable. This means you have to take an active role in usability and testing, even if you haven’t received specific instructions to do so. A technical writer will produce documentation that is validated and confirmed factual.