What Does a Software Technical Writer Do?
A software technical writer creates documents to describe how to set up and use software products.
Software technical writers make user guides, setup instructions, instruction manuals, online training material, release notes, new feature documents, how-to guides, and quick reference articles.
Most software technical writers work for a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company. A SaaS company creates applications that update through new plug-in releases and cloud services. Software technical writers must document software changes with each released version of the application. Software technical writers join the planning phase of a release because technical writers understand user needs and final intents.
If you're interested in learning more about the role via video, then watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.
A software technical writer focuses on application programming interface (API) writing. Software documentation is highly technical and requires critical thinking skills as well as knowledge of programming languages and scientific and technical products. Sometimes a background in computer science is even preferred to become a technical writer. Other technical writers may not need such a background.
Technical writers write for a broad audience because some of their readers will have more technical knowledge than others. Software technical writers work with many teams, including subject matter experts (SMEs), project managers (PM), developers, customer service representatives, and quality assurance (QA) personnel to create clear, helpful documentation.
A software writer's technical documents publish through online help, printed manuals, blog posts, white papers, and web pages. As a result, software technical writers must communicate with agility, work in a fast-paced environment, and remain comfortable working across backgrounds.
Software technical writers work with people worldwide, speaking many languages and coming from different backgrounds. In software technical writing, it is essential to understand what each audience, team, and collaborator needs to stay informed.
Software Technical Writer Job Description
A technical writer must research the subject matter, understand its functionality, and interview team members to create the software documentation. A senior technical writer in software can also be responsible for:
- Participating in daily scrum meetings.
- Working in an agile environment.
- Entering cases for any bugs found in the system.
- Performing QA.
- Creating how-to videos to complement documentation.
- Participating in meetings with the documentation team.
- Creating eLearning courses.
- Creating and managing online documentation.
- Helping with the user experience (UX) of an application.
- Attending conferences to communicate with clients.
- Working with source document management systems.
- Submitting the software documentation for technical review.
- Working on many documents at once.
What is a Software Technical Writer?
Software technical writers write and maintain technical documents for software products, playing a crucial part in software development. Technical writers create documents that many companies need before releasing a new product or version. A software product cannot release new versions without the necessary documentation to support users and developers.
The software technical writer communicates between a company and its end-user. Technical writers take complex information and deliver it in a valuable and comprehensive way. Software technical writers need to understand what information users need and the best genre or format of dissemination.
A developer may have such intricate, complex, and technical information about the program that, unlike technical writers, they have no idea how to explain it to a user in a way that is easy to understand.
Software technical writers digest technical information and dispense practical instruction to users. Technical writers gather all essential information, analyze their intended audience, and structure cohesive documents, guides, and videos. Technical writers also update technical documents and instructional content when features have changed in the program.
The technical writer must understand documentation needs, including menu paths, screen call-outs, and complete procedures. Software technical writers determine when it is essential to include a screenshot or cross-reference another document.
If you want to become a software technical writer, you must have a Bachelor's degree in a field such as English, Computer Science, Computer Programming, or Communications. Technical Writer HQ also offers the #1 certification for aspiring software technical writers.
Some positions in technical writing may also require an Associates' or Master's degree. Many technical writing jobs also need a background in a technical field, experience working with software products, or familiarity with technical writing processes, business writing, and other disciplines.
If you have the education, you can take courses and certifications to add to your skills and create technical documentation for scientific and software products.
If you come from a non-technical background, you can still get a job in software technical writing. With solid writing skills and a desire to learn, a career in this field is achievable.
Software Technical Writer Skills
A technical writer must have strong writing skills with an interest in working with technical documentation and software. Technical writers must know the standard procedure of their organization and have a working knowledge about many specialized areas.
For example, you may work for an organization that has a program for investment properties. The robust program has many features, and you must create the documentation for the financial part of the program. You would need to have a strong background in technical writing and software and financial terminology.
Software technical writers must know how to write technical information for many audiences with a fluid style. A software technical writer must be comfortable interviewing people with different technical skills, such as subject matter experts, and understand what users value.
Strong research skills are also an essential part of technical documentation. Technical writers need to gather large amounts of information to write software documentation. Software technical writers interview their colleagues on setting up the program, working with it, and its purpose. Technical writers research new and existing functionalities that many may not understand in early releases.
How to Get a Job in Software Technical Writing
If you are interested in writing and software, a career in software technical writing may be for you. To become a software technical writer, it helps to have a background in writing, content development, software development, software engineering, or business administration. If you have a background as a software developer or a product manager, you could also use your experience to your advantage.
If you don't have any experience creating technical documents, you can practice and create samples to use in your portfolio. Most software technical writing jobs require a portfolio of your written work that showcases your writing and documentation abilities.
If you want to advance quickly in software technical writing, strengthen your skills in writing, technical communication, and software documentation by taking online courses or enrolling in higher education classes.
Also, broaden your technical knowledge by learning new, industry-leading tools. For example, some technical writers need to know how to manage servers or work with code. The more technical skill a technical writer has, the more valuable technical writers are for their company's communications and, ultimately, the end user's experience of the product.
You can also try making the transition from within your current company. If you already work for a software company but are in the customer service department, you already talk with customers and note their issues with the software. You have valuable, hands-on knowledge about the program and its users. Leverage your experience to secure a role once you have the education to support your transition into a software technical writing career.
Where Software Technical Writers Work
Software companies always hire for these roles, including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Adobe, Oracle, and Citrix.
Many top companies accept applications on an ongoing basis and will contact you if they have an opening that matches your profile. You can also check out our job section to find out about job openings near you.
How Technical Writers Work on Software Documentation
Several types of software technical writing require a unique approach. Such software documentation includes technical and non-technical details like setup, pre-requisite requirements, screen reference diagrams, and functionality.
These are some of the things you need to consider when you are writing a document. Excellent software documentation must have:
- Good audience analysis. Technical writers analyze their audience before creating their documents. Technical writers need to determine how technical or non-technical the information needs to be for their intended audience.
- A structured outline. Before technical writers create their documentation, they must outline with headers, subheads, and valuable information for a clear, clean, and logical outcome.
- Images and screenshots. Good documents include great images and screenshots that include the entire screen and call-outs. Technical writers should have guidelines about how to incorporate screenshots in documents.
- An end goal. Good documentation must consider the user's end goal. What is it they are trying to achieve, and what do they need to get there? What information do technical writers need to describe for set up, and what does a user need to do?
- Complete menu paths. Technical writers must ensure that their document has the entire menu path, followed by the screen name.
- Presentation. How should technical writers present the information to the user? Are you going to write a user guide? What document type do you need? Will technical writers develop an instructional video? Do you need to include online help tokens in your documents?
- Upkeep. Software technical writers update documentation for each new release, adding to the technical information available to users. Technical writers must ensure that all on-screen information is correctly displayed and archive old documents and instruction manuals.
Examples of Software Technical Communications
The following are great examples of software technical communication. Note how software technical writers use many methods to display information. Compare it with your own writing.
- Mailchimp's online help is easy-to-use with a search function at the top. It also includes helpful how-to videos for more complex subjects. The technical writing in this example is clear and to the point.
- Another great example is Github's online help. It has a search function with a quick-start guide and a great documentation structure divided by guides, articles, and a "what's new" section.
- The target audience of Amazon's Developer documentation is developers. They divide depending on the product, then have relevant topics for each product.
- Stripe's documentation aims at developers, and the technical writing is efficient and tidy with headers for each section. The technical writing stays clear, informative, and understandable.
Is Software Technical Writing the Right Career For You?
If you are interested in software technical writing, a career as a software technical writer may be for you. There are billions of software products currently in the market, and new ones come out daily, making for an exciting job market.
Technical writers work in a fast-paced environment with many collaborators and a variety of subjects. For example, a technical writer in software could focus on construction, accounting, marketing, or aerospace. The possibilities are endless.
Software technical writers are often considered in final decisions because they clearly understand what users need. As such, software writers participate in development and forecasting meetings. Software technical writers provide their team with critical feedback and ideas.
The technical communication field has a projected growth of 22% by 2030. According to Glassdoor, the average technical writer's salary is $75,679, with a range of $53,000-108,00.
If you have a strong portfolio and working experience, you can even consider becoming a freelance technical writer and offering your technical writing services to major companies. If you are interested in a software technical writing career, you can check out this post to help you create a great resume to land that job.
A career in software technical writing can span millions of software programs developed by large corporations and small companies.
The need for people with expertise in software technical writing is essential in today's high-tech, software-centric world. If you want to become a technical writer and document some of the world's most exciting products, a career in the field of software technical writing is for you.
If you are new to technical writing and are looking to break-in, we recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course, where you will learn the fundamentals of being a technical writer, how to dominate technical writer interviews, and how to stand out as a technical writing candidate.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He is considered one of the top product influencers in the world by Product School and one of the top technical writers. He has been writing software tutorials, manuals, handbooks, and white papers for over eight years. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.