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.
The SMEs had a choice between two sets of tables they could use to input key product data. If their part of the project used items from the A list, they were supposed to use table A. If their part of the product used items from the B list, they were supposed to use table B. In almost every case, the SMEs used the wrong table, leaving gaps where their information did not conform to the columns of the tables.
This article offers tips on breaking into the field of freelance writing—some from Alice Osborn herself, some from two of the books she recommends: "Secrets of a Freelance Writer" by Robert W. Bly; and "The Renegade Writer" by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell.
I love my job but don’t feel the managers think it’s important, partly because of the noise. I also sometimes feel that I’m just an ISO requirement. I’ve also heard from techs that customers don’t look at the manuals; they just put them on a shelf. Any thoughts?
Technical communication tends to focus on delivering objective information in a clear, accurate, and accessible way. Business writing, on the other hand, often has an emotional component. Sometimes we have to deliver bad news. Sometimes we need to gather information from people already stressed because they’re busy with other things. Here are some tips for effective business writing.
If you want to be “making it as a lone writer“, one of the most difficult challenges is to find time. Time to develop your skills, improve the documentation, advocate it and network with other teams.
Technical Writers compose communication from product developers for users of the products. Users include consumers as well as scientists, engineers, plant executives, line workers, and production managers. Writers must write in a concise and easy-to-read manner for consumer publications or in highly specialized language for experts. With the increased use of desktop publishing, Technical Writers increasingly are responsible for the publication process including graphics, layout, and document design. Technical Writers create product instructions, reference and maintenance manuals, articles, project proposals, training materials, technical reports, catalogs, brochures, online documentation and help systems, Web pages, multimedia presentations, parts lists, assembly instructions, and sales promotion materials.
What do concept topics do? They support task topics in that they give the user additional information that he or she needs to know before starting a task or in order to help them complete the task.
Because writers have to immediately place the information they want to record into one of these three types of information, they are being trained on how to write in a task-oriented, performance-based manner, via DITA. I am especially interested in this “training” for wiki authors and talked about the idea at our recent presentation.
In partial answer to the many questions that have been raised about the definition and location of technical writing programs, a random sample of full-time teachers of professional writing was conducted. The results indicate that those located in English departments do not receive the respect and support they need. Those located in other departments are significantly more satisfied. Some strategies for improving the situation are suggested.
A technical writer will periodically need to interview Subject Matter Experts (SME) to gather information about a technical document. More often that not, and especially within the context of software development, most SMEs are engineers and software developers. But they can also be mechanical, electrical and other types of engineers, hardware installers, network engineers, testers, site foremen, call center engineers, field technicians, sales or marketing people, local dealers, etc. One cardinal rule of interviewing an SME is to do your homework well, in advance.
For future job seekers: Always be prepared. In today’s day and age a layoff can happen to anyone, no matter how secure you may think your job is. That doesn’t mean you should walk around with a cloud of doom over your head but it does mean you should be aware and somewhat prepared if it does. Keep your resume up-to-date and make note of milestones and accomplishments in your current job.
Beach time and bench time refer to paid or unpaid time off between consulting contracts. When you are a contractor, it is best to take initiative and find other options no matter how much you trust your recruiter. Never trust a company to have your best interests in mind.
I couldn’t picture myself as a big time advertising writer, but technical writer was something that I figured I could do. I had plenty of computer experience. Half of my personal debt was related to computer equipment. I had been on the Internet since before there was a World Wide Web. I had a degree in creative writing and I had been an editor and writer for a few minor publications. Technical writer seemed obtainable.
What can you expect from a career in technical writing? The answer depends on a couple of factors. Specifically, will you be a lone technical writer or part of a technical writing team? Will you be a freelance technical writer or an employee?
Most professional writing jobs still require a college degree either in the liberal arts with a preference for Communications, Journalism, and English. Competition is expected to be less for lower paying, entry-level jobs. Writers who fail to gain better paying jobs usually can transfer readily to communications-related jobs in other occupations.
The market for English majors is poor; yet with concentration, awareness of skills, strong support, and sufficient information, recent graduates and career changers can find excellent positions. In 1980, after performing two surveys of the career paths of 550 humanities majors and publishing a guide to career options, I resigned my academic post and began a full year of part-time teaching, medical and technical editing, and several other jobs, including career counseling. As a career counselor I collaborated with another former academic to develop a variation on the familiar career seminar for humanities majors.
Ongoing attempts to define technical writing are inevitably confounded by problems caused by an excessively broad focus, which obscures the basis and usefulness of the definition, or by an excessively narrow focus, which arbitrarily-and sometimes oddly-relegates samples of writing as in or out of the realm of technical writing. Technical writers have been doing their jobs for far too long without a definition to be satisfied with a one- or two-sentence catch-all definition, and such a definition may result in dividing technical writing into two (or more) cultures.
Rather than spend hours coming up with a complex numbering scheme, this might be an excuse to implement something far more straightforward discovered by an extensive readability study at IBM, of which I was a part. My work involved sitting behind a one-way mirror with a stopwatch, watching people take tests that involved, among other things, "how fast can you find Figure 3-4?" We had cameras mounted over the participant's shoulders and could watch them thumb through the documents, and we also monitored eye movements. Then we followed up with a short interview where we got feedback.
In looking at my documentation, I found a couple of inaccuracies, and it’s possible that they were the direct cause of the data problem we ended up with. I haven’t verified this yet because at this point, it looks like it hardly matters (as long as I correct the inaccuracies). If my documentation led to the problem, it has led us to analyze a bigger problem that’s really at the heart of our customer’s difficulty. The discussion has been about what needs to happen in our system vs. what is actually happening. We think the programming and the data model have fallen short in some ways; fortunately, the wiring can probably be fixed with relatively little pain. It’s a matter of making sure we know what the customer wants to happen so it will be programmed the right way.
Being new to the technical communications profession, but not to researching and speaking with SMEs and product users, I knew there must be a device for recording other than a phone or pocket recorder. I wondered, "What are college students using?" James Bond had all the gadgets back in the 60’s so why couldn’t I?
Technical communication certificates are offered by many colleges and universities as an alternative to full undergraduate or graduate degrees in the field. Certificates typically require only one or two years of coursework strictly within technical communication, and typically can be earned while working full time or while seeking another degree. As Sherry Burgus Little notes in “Designing Certificate Programs in Technical Communication,” certificate programs are diverse in their charter and construction.