The Journey of Becoming a Technical Writer
Technical writing is mainly about communicating complex and specialized information in a direct and clear style. Despite writing various types of tech content, tech writers need to make the message comprehensible.
Technical writers are present in various fields from pharmaceutical to spaceship engineers. With the rapid growth of SaaS, their role is in demand and has been transformed.
In the following post, we’ll focus on technical writers related mostly to SaaS and software development and find out all the details about their duties, skills, and ways to start with this craft.
WHAT TECHNICAL WRITERS DO
Technical writers educate. They are responsible for delivering clear and messages crafting non-ambiguous documentation for users. Technical writers create various materials to help audiences understand specific topics or product functionality. Also, they might be involved in inner-company documentation: from documenting product development roadmap to writing landing page descriptions on staging.
The most popular technical materials include manuals, user guides, software descriptions, in-app messages, web page copy (of course, in a technical segment), tech specifications (say, for designers), white papers, journal articles, software test reports, and other types of data-based documentation.
With the rapid digitalization and evolution of software development, a position of a technical writer relates mostly to this segment. In this way, Society of Technical Communication emphasizes that technical writing is a form of communication, which makes technical writers, in fact, technical communicators.
So, defining the role of technical writers, they educate and communicate with technicians, users, teams through the written materials of different types.
HOW THEY DO IT
This question pops-up after the previous section. It may seem that technical writers are fully responsible for the tech communication within a company or a product. Indeed, the writers are usually a part of the content, product, or development team.
Technical writers usually work full-time, but freelance workers aren’t rare. In the case of outsourcing such specialists, there are risks of having non-comprehensive materials due to the lack of freelancer’s interaction with a product. That’s why you as a freelancer should always stay connected with the clients.
Among others, the majority of tasks that technical writers do include the following:
- Communication with the team. Tech writers do it constantly starting with requirements discussion till the final tweaks on content.
- Outlining the materials. Based on the task, a technical writer should define an outline correctly to emphasize the most important parts of a document and make it readable.
- Research. This task is critical to understand the target readers, the way to communicate with them and shape the general ideas behind a document.
- Copywriting and polishing. Surprisingly, tech writers write ????. Apart from that, they take a meeting and inception notes, edit, polish, and update the materials.
- Data visualization. It’s always useful to deliver a document with high usability by adding charts, graphs, and other visuals. The writers can share tasks for designers or collaborate with them on visuals.
TECHNICAL WRITERS VS TECHNICAL CONTENT WRITERS
You might wonder whether technical writers and tech content writers are the same roles. Let’s figure it out.
As we outlined, tech writers deliver documentation and related materials, explaining some steps, e.g. installing an app, API documentation, troubleshooting guides, etc.
Technical content writers, in return, produce blog posts, tutorials, overviews, guides, and other types of tech-based content. They usually cooperate with product development teams, devs, or other tech experts to help them clearly deliver a technical message in an article. Their end goal is to encourage users to do a certain action as well as help users solve a service-related pain.
At many companies, technical content writers perform the role of tech writers as well. Apart from producing content for a blog, they’re involved in making homepage copies, in-app messages, service descriptions, and more.
REQUIREMENTS AND SKILLS
Like many occupations, technical writing requires a set of abilities and skills from a person.
Education. While some employers may not require any special degree for a junior technical writer position, having a bachelor’s degree in a tech-related field is a big plus.
Besides, the previous technical experience will also help to get a position
Deep understanding of the field. It is tremendously important to have a deep understanding of the industry you’re going to work in. Learn a product (if possible, test it), its competitors, alternative solutions. Be aware of major trends and innovations in the field. At some point, this requirement is more critical than having a degree.
Writing background. It may be experience in content marketing, journalism, academic writing that will help you to switch to a more technical type of work with having the basics covered.
Editor’s traits. The ability to craft materials strongly depends on editing skills. You have to develop those traits: try to stick to the outline, be able to cut word counts and improve clarity, always critically review and proofread your writings.
Extra. Certifications of different levels confirming your experience in technical writing will add authority to your CV. Besides, Coursera, Udemy, and other platforms offer tech writing online courses, where you can obtain a certificate and gain your basic knowledge in the field.
As for soft skills, great communication is a must. When you are a technical writer, you should establish constant cooperation with different teams, making notes, and clarifying the requirements. You need to know whom to ask when you don’t get something and be able to find all the information you need to start working on a document.
Technological proactivity would help greatly. When you have the desire to learn and improve your expertise not only in your segment but in related and general technical fields, it’s a solid way to master the craft.
Besides, all writers need to have an organizational view and the ability to structure their documents. Hence, they need to develop these skills as well as improve their designer’s sense to create a compelling and visually pleasant copy. The secret to mastery is always in practice but, as we mentioned, eagerness to try new tasks will only make you a stronger professional.
HOW TO START
You’ve got the skills and wondering how to start?
Explore the occupation
Everything starts with a desire: to learn, improve, and grow. If you have one, it’s awesome for a start. However, to make a not only emotion-driven decision, you have to research technical writing peculiarities.
First, explore the field you are planning to enroll yourself in. Talk to people who are already working there, try to find other technical writers who can share some experience, read articles like this one.
If the field is absolutely new to you, consider making a more careful examination. Consider undergoing additional training, check video tutorials, pass an online course, etc. Whatever you choose, it is important to analyze and learn first.
Salary expectations and scope of work influence the decision of joining a position. Here’s a salary expectation for tech writers in the U.S.
Polish basic skills
You will need basic skills for sure. We have outlined them above, but there is one more thing crucial to mention. Whenever you start with technical writing, practice is key. The more you write, the more skillful you become.
Make contributions to submission-friendly websites, publish articles on Medium, think of launching a personal blog, or work on small projects for your friends. It will all help you to gather enough examples to showcase later as well as will solve a lack of practicing.
Create a portfolio
Every time you apply for the position of technical writer, you will need to present a portfolio. The latter showcases the proof of your writing skills and your previous experience if any.
While many companies give test tasks to evaluate whether the candidate fits the profile, your portfolio will help them make a decision faster. Whenever you have a new worth piece, make sure to add it to your portfolio and keep everything in one place. It saves you time and effort and serves as a great example of your hard work.
Develop industry knowledge
Obtaining deep industry knowledge will definitely move you along the way towards becoming an experienced technical writer.
If we are talking about SaaS and IT, the industry is moving pretty fast, there is always something new out there. When you are aware of new technological advances, it will be easier for you to produce relevant content.
Besides, true tech writers know: there is always work to do. There is a constant demand for technical documents, manuals, and guides. There are hundreds of apps released on the market on a regular basis where each of them needs to have a description, a how-to guide, a detailed manual, and technical instruction. If you’re a freelance writer, you never know from where the opportunity comes, so make sure you are prepared to grab it.
No matter whether you are a freelancer or an in-house writer: be proactive in building a network of great professionals. You are not the first one out there trying to succeed with technical writing. There are thousands of people who are either related to the industry or have already mastered it.
The good news is they are willing to share what they know. There are social media groups, associations for writers, various networking events, and lectures where people share their knowledge and experience. You can also find individuals online, follow them and gain insights from their works.
On another note, networking will not only help you learn but also give you an opportunity to build your reputation. You can easily find different projects to participate in or contribute to or offer your services to those who come to such events to find a writer.
Organize the process
You will have various types of projects to work on. You should create a small instruction for yourself on how to structure a certain type of document from scratch and follow it every time you get a new assignment. Note every idea and example. The more you learn, the more you will add on in your own instructions, the better your end product will become. So it’s wise to collect templates and document everything relevant.
Time-management and self-discipline are critical for good writers as well. Differentiate your working hours with leisure, which is especially important in remote pandemic times. Always grant some extra time for edits.
To help with managing time and discipline, there are tons of tools that will assist you to follow your schedule: Toggl, Focus Keeper, Evernote, etc. The more structured you are in your work, the faster the process, the better the result.
BECOMING A PRO
Once you’ve gained enough experience and are ready to move from a junior to a pro, you will need to comprehend the craft nuances.
To build a solid knowledge of one niche, you need to focus on it. Yeah, it may contradict the previous advice on developing cross-discipline knowledge, but it’s not. Your major focus should always be on the product and the field. Expertise in related fields and general technological curiosity are only supplementary.
Also, you need to learn more about writing styles, tone of voice, and specific techniques relevant to the chosen industry in order to be a pro. Read more related documents and feel free to experiment with writing styles.
It won’t hurt to get to know more about web design. The more you understand visual components, design core principles, the more structured and visually appealing your materials will be. Besides, knowing the professional vocabulary will ease the communication with designers and developers. You might consider visiting one of the online design courses.
You may need basic coding knowledge. While technical writers are rarely asked to code, they still need some basic knowledge about HTML, CSS, JS. Wonder why?
Sometimes, when writing a copy for a web page, technical writers can be asked to change or edit the written text on the website. If you can easily edit your own text without smashing down the code or add some code snippets’ adjustments, it will be highly appreciated.
The same relates to the knowledge of WordPress and other popular CMS systems. You may be asked to update knowledge bases or landing pages directly from a CMS.
Establish cooperation with others. A junior writer always waits for instructions and sometimes fails to ask correct questions. A professional technical writer knows what the task is, understands the requirements, knows where to get more details, and whom to connect with to get the best results.
Technical writers are in high demand nowadays. With such a rapid growth of software development, there is always the need for more data-related documents and reports.
If you are looking to become a technical writer, start with the basics, learn more about the industry, understand whether it is your cup of tea and if you are ready to work for it. The rest is all the matter of desire to learn, practice, and improve.
Dmytro Zaichenko is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Railsware, a product studio helping people build great products. Apart from writing and networking, he’s a huge NBA fan.
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