Technical writing is ubiquitous. People read it every time they install software or assemble new furniture. Especially with the widespread use of technology, technical writing is a growing industry that requires skilled professionals who can communicate succinctly and effectively with multiple audiences.
Technical writing involves instructing, explaining and directing the reader in fields like information technology, engineering, manufacturing, e-commerce, health care and more. Because it has so many applications, it’s no surprise that technical writing has been a part of production since before the 1950s. The first officially recognized piece of technical writing was a user’s manual written in 1949 for the BINAC computer. As industries have evolved since then, the profession has expanded to include diagrams, animation and digital charts that help the user understand increasingly complex technical information.
Technical writers create manuals, how-to guides and other documents that support users while sharing complicated information in an understandable, actionable way. The overall goal of technical writing is to “create professional and error-free documentation in order to establish credibility with the audience,” according to Sokanu. Because their writing is so technical in nature, it is important for these professionals to have strong research and documentation skills.
Examples of Technical Writing
Technical writing includes communications that exhibit the following characteristics, according to the Society for Technical Communication (STC).
- Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures or environmental regulations
- Communicating by using technology, such as webpages, help files or social media sites
- Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is
As the STC puts it, “The value that technical communicators deliver is twofold: They make information more useable and accessible to those who need that information, and in doing so, they advance the goals of the companies or organizations that employ them.”
Examples of technical writing include:
- Assembly instructions: Technical writers must be able to provide step-by-step instructions so that the user can put together the end product, such as a child’s toy or piece of furniture, without struggling with unclear directions.
- User guides: In some cases, products arrive with comprehensive user guides, which provide documentation that explains the various features. Technical writers might write full-length, detailed guides to help the reader use items such as a computer or vehicle.
- Installation information: Technical writers also create documents that guide the reader through the installation process for software and other digital products. Their writing might help the user troubleshoot as well.
- Safety instructions: Because many technical products are used in high-risk situations, technical writers also communicate important health and safety information. They might do this for tools such as lawn care equipment or even kitchen appliances.
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What Is Technical Writing? The Technical Writing Process
The first and most important step in creating effective technical writing content is analyzing the audience. A document’s tone, content and level of complexity depend on who the target users are and how much they know. It is helpful to ask the following questions about the audience during the technical writing process, according to Daniel Riordan, author of Technical Report Writing Today.
- Who are they? Technical writers must determine whether they are writing for one specific audience or several different groups. This informs how they approach the topic.
- How much do they know? It is also important to understand the knowledge level of the audience members. If they are advanced, users will understand a certain level of jargon and terminology. However, beginners require more explanation.
- What do they expect? “Expectations are the factors that affect the way in which the audience interprets your document. Will it conform to their sense of what this kind of document should look and sound like?” Riordan explains.
Technical Writing Career Paths
When it comes to starting a career in technical writing, there are options. “Some people come from a technical background and find that their careers have evolved into a communication focus. Others come from English or journalism schools and combine their education with an interest in technology,” Techopedia says. Even better, some students choose to pursue an English degree that focuses specifically on technical writing. This can give them the specialized skills they need to stand out in the workplace.
West Virginia State University offers a fully online Bachelor of Arts in English – Technical Writing degree program that helps students understand the complexities of writing in the business world. It combines a comprehensive writing curriculum with skill development in digital literacy, critical reading, soft skills development and more. With these skills, you’ll graduate with the knowledge to be successful in many writing and communications careers.