What is Technical Writing/Technical Communication?

Technical communication is a field that provides information to users who need assistance to accomplish a defined goal or task.  The focus of technical communication is to assist users who need specific information on using products, completing tasks, operating equipment, and completing other types of activities.

Technical communicators work with other professionals to maintain the quality of product documentation. Technical communicators work collaboratively with sales personnel, engineers, programmers, graphic designers, quality control personnel, and client support personnel to ensure that product documentation meets the needs of users.

The field of technical communication encompasses a number of related disciplines that include:

  • Information design
  • Technical writing
  • Technical editing
  • Instructional design
  • User experience design
  • Document design
  • Training design
  • Marketing
  • Web design

What do technical writers do?

Technical writers interpret the thoughts and ideas of engineers, programmers, and marketing managers by translating complex concepts and procedures into plain English. As a technical writer, you are a technical “interpreter” who must: know and understand complex language and industry-specific jargon, be objective and accurate, and, perhaps most importantly, understand your audience. If you don’t understand your readers’ needs, you will not be able to produce the document they need or want.

Additionally, as a technical writer, you are expected to be able to:

  • Write information that meets the needs of the audience
  • Write so that users can easily find and understand information
  • Organize the structure of technical documents
  • Use page elements such as tables, lists, headings, and white space appropriately
  • Edit and proofread to produce documents without grammatical or typographical errors.

Technical writers also interpret the thoughts and ideas of engineers, programmers, and marketing managers by translating complex concepts and procedures into plain English. As a technical writer, you are a technical “interpreter” who must: know and understand complex language and industry-specific jargon, be objective and accurate, and, perhaps most importantly, understand your audience. If you don’t understand your readers’ needs, you will never produce the document they need or want.

Not just manuals

Technical writing does involve a fair amount of instructional-type writing (think of all the products that come with instruction manuals and guides), but technical writers are called upon to produce different types of technical documents. These technical documents have many similar features and requirements, but some technical writing, such as website content, have more specific requirements.

Technical writers, in addition to user manuals,  produce the following types of documents:

  • Quick reference guides
  • Proposals
  • Annual or quarterly reports
  • Newsletters
  • Marketing documents
  • Product analysis and/or review
  • Website content
  • Training materials
  • Simulations
  • Online help
  • User assistance guides (FAQs)

Computer skills

In addition to writing skills, technical writers/communicators should have at least basic knowledge of using applications typically used in a technical writing environment, such as Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and Adobe Photoshop, as well as some knowledge of HTML and XML editors. You don’t need to be an expert in all of these applications, but you should be able to use software designed to write technical content.

License

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Technical Writing for Technicians by Will Fleming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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