Technical Writers can also be known as technical editors, technical communicators, information developers, information architects, user assistance designers, and more. All these names cover one fundamental aspect of technical writing – providing simple context to complex products, processes, or services, and conveying technical information in a clear and understandable way.
Technical writing is not limited to technical domains, such as engineering, financial services, manufacturing, the medical industry, etc. Technical writers work in software, transportation, energy, telecommunications, publishing, consulting, health, and security – the list is almost endless.
Elements of good documentation
Usually, a customer will refer to documentation when they either experience a problem and need to fix something quickly or when they need to install, upgrade, or configure a system. Either way, it is critically important for a customer to find technically accurate information and clear instructions.
However, good documentation requires more than just clear instructions and the presentation of complex information in an easy-to-understand way. We also need to think about our writing and the reader, making our documentation SEO-friendly and utilizing specific knowledge about structure, appropriate titles, visual content, plus ensuring that all pieces of information and visual elements such as a screenshot, an animated GIF, a screenshot icon, a diagram, or a video are accessible to people with sight impairments.
And regardless of whether we write in Markdown or DITA, we need to be knowledgeable across a variety of software tools and technologies to create our technical documentation.
Another important element is ensuring that the documentation is always kept up to date with the latest changes and updates which is a constant and ongoing process.
Visual elements and video
Creating and implementing more visual elements is no longer just a matter of decoration – it is now a necessity. The human brain can identify and categorize images in 13 milliseconds and digital life is no longer only text-based – it is becoming more and more visual.
Therefore, not only do we explain complex features in words, but we also must create visual elements and instructional videos for our customers.
Always versatile and never boring
Very often people outside the technical writing domain consider this profession rather boring, but actually the field of technical communication is very broad and interesting. It provides one with many opportunities to work with a lot of experts, to read constantly, to learn about new technologies and new tools, to master new skills, and to create assets that are useful for others. It is incredibly versatile, which is why it never gets boring!
What skills does the technical writer require?
In technical communication, there are experts with different skills and professional experience. Very often our responsibilities are not limited to content creation. Sometimes we must lead teams and manage various projects.
The formula for success in the field of technical communication requires technical writers to have:
- High level of curiosity – we need to constantly read and collect a lot of information.
- Strong communication skills – according to the 2019 WritersUA Skills and Technology Survey, 83% of the technical communication professionals who are involved in supporting software, consider interviewing SMEs an important skill. SMEs play a crucial role in developing quality documentation. They can provide expertise, guidance, and context to your content. Interviewing SMEs ensures the technical accuracy of the documentation. Also, the relationship assures both writers and SMEs that all information and details about the product will be correctly used and transformed into precise documentation that end users can benefit from.
- Excellent technical skills – we should be able to understand the product and how it works in order to explain effectively to the end users how they can interact with it.
- A pinch of writing talent – we should have strong writing skills and the ability to write and prepare our texts for audiences with different levels of experience.
- Software skills – the workflow is getting more and more complex, which is why we need special tools for writing. Apart from that, we should know how to use additional tools for creating our visual content – videos, diagrams, screenshots, etc.
- Various social and soft skills – we constantly need to gain and build new skills and update old ones. In addition to our job responsibilities, we often take part in professional courses, training, webinars, workshops, conferences, and so on.
This profession is creative and requires us to have a lot of discipline, diligence, and knowledge so that what we have written cannot be interpreted in any other way but the way it is intended. It also requires us to be knowledge lovers, challenge takers, hard workers, lifelong learners and to have a lot of empathy. We are inquisitive and like to read, we can learn everything we would like to learn. But what truly matters, in the long run, is the combination of hard work and your natural talent.
This is how we, the IX technical writers, make others’ lives much easier and more productive – because technical communication serves a greater good!