Technical Writing, a form of technical communication, is a style of formal writing and business communication, used in fields as diverse as computer hardware and software, chemistry, the aerospace industry, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, and biotechnology. Good technical writing clarifies technical jargon; that is, it presents useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience.
I have gotten a lot of questions wondering how I became a Technical Writer. I decided to create this blog post to answer everyone all-at-once. Also, for future people who are trying to get into technical writing and want to know how.
Writing documentation isn't merely the act of pounding out dry prose. There is some creativity involved which comes from how you present the information, both textually and visually. The writing, though, needs to be easy to read, complete, concise, and to the point.
I’m sure neither of us would argue that video will replace text. Instead, people will expect information to be delivered through a variety of media. The questions for Technical Authors are: can they be sure they will be the people creating this type of information?
The profession of Technical Author in the UK is yet to be recognised as a distinct profession under the UK Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities, so it’s very hard to determine how many people work as Technical Authors.
Over the last few months, I’ve been working with a number of mobile devices. Not professionally, but on my own time with my own devices or devices that friends have graciously loaned me. While having fun and experiencing the occasional frustration or moments of head scratching, I kept asking myself how much documentation does this thing really need?
For those of us in the field of technical writing who didn't come at this from a computer science background (raise your hand if you’re an English major), we’re often introduced to unfamiliar technologies and terminology at the start of a project. It’s understandable then that we'd want to keep quiet and stay on the sidelines until we better understand what the developers are discussing. I’d like to suggest that doing so will lengthen the ramp-up time, and...
There are a number of well known factors that impact the effectiveness of documentation, both as an aid to learning and as a guide to getting the job done. An approach to documentation known as minimalist has been around for many years, but remains little know outside specialist interest groups. The approach produces clean easy to read documentation. Manuals and guides produced using the approach have a much higher probability of being useful and therefore of being used.
Many organizations produce in-house tools or modify commercially-available tools for their own use. These tools should get documented so they are of use to others in the organization. If this documentation is not created or is poorly written, it costs you twice.
One common complaint a lot of technical writers have is that they aren’t included early enough in lifecycle of a project. The downsides are that by the time work hits your desk you don’t have a full picture of who the customer is, why they want whatever it is you are building, and how they want it provided to them. All of which directly impacts the information being created.
You can get away with this in your 20s, but as you get older you need to take greater care of your health. I really hate jogging (: and looked for an alternative form of exercise. I found Tai Chi.
We technical writers are such shy and retiring types! It seems to be part of our make-up. We like to get in the zone, write perfect and beautiful documents, and expect others to see the value of our work. After all, doesn’t the perfection of a well-crafted document leap out at you? Don’t people know we’re the cool dudes who write the docs that rock?
The service course is undergoing another change in its role in the Technical Communication program. Over the years, the service course has evolved from a way of providing students with mastery of genre and style to a way of introducing students to their role as communicators in the rhetorical situation. The Web drives the new role evolving out of this solid past. The service course now provides students with a basis for independent creation. Programs must fill four key needs for students entering the job market. Students must: learn to learn; master the processes involved in creating information; learn applications quickly and graduate having mastered several; and understand information design.
The more skilled and experienced the readers are, the more they hate to be told in minute detail what to do. The more skilled and experienced the readers are, the more they like Checklists instead of detailed procedural steps.
Technical writing is sort of a jack-of-all-trades profession. It requires diverse skills, so a lot of people stumble into technical writing by chance. I've personally met technical writers who used to be lawyers, educators, and published fiction writers, and I've heard stories of many other professionals drifting into the field. Their past careers required writing, teaching, or technical abilities, and these skills helped them segue into a technical writing job.
Capturing the essence of a topic is the heart and soul of good writing and editing. If you cannot tell what the main idea is, you cannot write it either. And if you cannot write it, how would you expect your readers to get it? So it all starts with you. Thankfully, it is not mysterious process. Here are two techniques that you can use to weed out the irrelevant details from your core idea.
Technical writing has a number of moral and ethical standards that a professional technical writer needs to comply with. Violate them at your own peril, by risking the sudden demise of your career. Here are some of these issues.
In this post, I want to explore Help APIs, which is actually something in part enabled by static site generators. To put things in context, the web is sort of a giant API. Each browser functions as a client that accesses various resources from servers.
Consistency of a technical documentation is what creates that subliminal sense of trust and confidence in the end-users. Someone once quipped: “it ain’t technical documentation if it ain’t boring.” This of course is not true since I always found technical documents very interesting indeed. I’m the sort of geekish person who can marvel at a well-designed user’s manual for hours and appreciate its beauty and all the effort and thinking that went into its production. I imagine how happy people would be when they use that manual and solve their problems and that, believe it or not, makes me happy as well. That’s the main reason why I’m in this business.
If you’re a college student looking to become a technical writer after you graduate, you face a formidable challenge: you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. Especially in a competitive job market, getting a job as a technical writer directly after you graduate — without a foundation of previous jobs, experience with a handful of tools, and an impressive portfolio — can be especially difficult. However, if you follow these seven steps, which are not easy, not something you can do overnight, you will find a job.
Hiring technical writers is an infrequent but important part of a manager's job. Clearly defining the job and the required skills is the first step. Then use all of your networks to find candidates. Read résumés to find those that best match your requirements. The interview team needs to be prepared to ask relevant questions that verify and expand on the résumé and samples. Compare the interview team's evaluations, then check the references of your best one or two candidates, and make a prompt offer.
A colleague has made me realize that user assistance writers are codependents of bad UI design. Because we explain how the UI really works, we somehow leave our developers and companies feeling like they're "covered" when the users have a bad experience.
Jane R. in Texas asks for some tips on interviewing tech writers, especially when using assessment tests. Her company is about to hire their first full-time writer and they have not done this before. I’ve worked on both sides on the fence in the past, (i.e. interviewed and been interviewed) and picked up a few tings in the process. Hopefully, these will be of some help.
The marketplace for technical writers has often been challenging. In difficult economic times when companies seek to slash their budgets, it is often difficult for corporations to understand the need for a technical writer, let alone to understand the need to increase staffing in the documentation department. This article looks at the benefits of hiring technical writers, since their often diverse skill sets can be used across various departments in the organization.