What is Technical Writing?

 When was the last time you curled up in bed with a really good user-manual just for the sheer joy of reading it? Never I guess. People (including me) read reference manuals to understand concepts, to solve problems, and use products productively, not for leisure reading. They are interested in information that accompanies a product and that describes concepts (science, finance, trade, medicine, etc.).

“Technical writing conveys specific information about a technical subject to a specific audience for a specific purpose.” —Michael Markel

Expanding this, we can say that technical writing is the form of writing which imparts information about a technology/product/service by written and/or visual medium to users of varying levels of knowledge (or knowledge requirement) so that they clearly understand the technology/product/service. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) defines technical communication as the process of gathering information from experts and presenting it to an audience in a clear and easily understandable form.

Technical writing can be defined in different ways:

  • Technical writing is explaining how to use a technology.

It is about writing how products work and how the users have to use them. It informs, explains, and instructs a specific set of audience so that they gain the knowledge and are able to perform their job functions more effectively. The subject matter can range from promotional material on a new technology to instructions on using a program. The writing can be about a software package, medical instruments, finance software, consumer products, or electrical household products (toaster, mixer, or cooker). 

  • Technical writing is the process of shaping information.

Whenever you communicate, you convey information. How you shape this information is the key to technical writing. The document should be designed and presented in a format and manner that best suits the needs of the readers. You should write in a structured manner so that information clearly and easily expresses the complicated information. Hence, format, layout, and language are the important components of writing as they make the documents simple and usable.

  • Technical writing deals with theories, systems, designs, and methods.

The purpose of technical writing is to allow the users make appropriate decision and to perform the relevant task. Hence, it focuses on the subject (technology) methodologies, and the reader (the user). This is probably one of the reasons why technical writing is more popular in the areas of science and technology.

  • Technical writing is similar to investigative writing.

For writing technical documentation, you need to understand the product, identify the audience, slowly uncover the mysteries associated with the product and technology, and then write accordingly.

“When I teach technical writing, I always start off the first class by defining what technical writers do. My take on it: I get to be Arthur Conan Doyle for a living. I spend half my time as Sherlock Holmes, turning over rocks, uncovering clues, from putting together a big complicated puzzle from randomly gathered bits of information. Then I spend the other half of my time as Dr.Watson, writing it down in such a manner that it enlightens my audience.” —John Garison

  • Technical writing is NOT a job just for the language experts.

Very often, people judge the profession by its name. Hence the writer part of the term technical writer can be misleading. Many people assume that the profession is directly related to journalism, literature, and writing. I still remember the queries I used to face during my early days in this eld.

People were more concerned than I was regarding my choice of careerYou are an engineer. What are you doing as a technical writer?

As the name suggests, technical writing is a combination of technology and writing. It is often difficult to decide which factor is more important of the two. There can be a debate on technical versus writing, to decide what is more important. Are language and writing skills important? Is technical competence more important? Neither!

A healthy combination of both writing talent and technical aptitude is essential to make a good and successful technical writer. The weightage of the requirement (between the two) depends on the job pro le, the organization you are working for, the product you are writing about, and the type of document you are writing. There are some instances, wherein you need to possess subject knowledge because of the subject matter you write about. So it is important to understand the value of (and not underestimate) both parts of the job title Technical Writer.

  • It is the field of writing which is audience specific.

Technical information is compiled in a format such that different types of readers can use it. Some of them may be familiar with the subject while others may have no knowledge about it. Hence, the most important element of effective technical writing is knowing your audience and meeting their needs and expectations.

Example:

    • Writing for engineers is different from writing for university students.
    • Writing for an internal newsletter is different from writing newsletters for business purpose.
    • Writing to explain (user’s guide) is absolutely different from writing to persuade to make a decision (proposals).

We can summarize these definitions and say that good technical writing has to:

  • Fulfill all the requirements of the users.
  • Confirm to the styles and format.
  • Be technically and grammatically correct.
  • Be simple, concise, and easy to understand.
  • Be free of errors and omissions.
  • Be useful and user-friendly in terms of information, language, and format.
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One Response

  1. Really enjoyed reading this and wanted to say thanks. Keep up the good work 🙂

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