What Does a Software Technical Writer Do?

Updated on October 8th, 2021
What Does a Software Technical Writer Do?

A software technical writer creates documents that describe how to setup and use software products. This can be in the form of user guides, setup guides, release notes, new feature documents, quick reference guides, and so on.

Most technical writers in this field work for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. A SaaS company creates an application that is frequently updated through a new plug-in release or through a cloud service. These technical writers must document new software changes in-line with the new release version of the application. They are often included in the planning phase of a release because they understand what a user needs to complete in their final task.

A technical writer in this specific field can also focus on application programming interface (API) writing. This type of software documentation is very technical, and requires knowing programming languages and many other software functions.

Technical writers must write for a wide audience, because some of their readers will have more technical knowledge than others. The technical writers work with a varied team that can include subject matter experts (SMEs), project managers (PM), developers, customer service representatives, quality assurance (QA) personnel, and more.

The technical documents can be released via an online help, printed manuals, blog posts, white papers, web pages, and so on. This means that the typical technical writer must be agile, at ease working in a fast-paced environment, and be comfortable working with people from a varied background. Technical writers also work with people in other parts of the world, who have different levels of English and come from very different backgrounds. In this field of technical writing, it is important to understand what piece of information is needed from each member of the team.

To create the software documentation, a technical writer must research the subject matter and its functionality, and interview their team members. They 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 accompany the documentation.
  • Working with an online help.
  • Participating in meetings with the documentation team. This can include creating style guides, ensuring that you follow standard technical writing practices, having your work edited by the technical writing editor, and more.
  • Creating eLearning courses.
  • Creating and managing online documentation.
  • Helping with the user experience (UX) of an application.
  • Attending conferences to communicate with clients. This can be useful to determine potential help topics, or to determine what needs to be updated in the documents, based on the client's feedback.
  • Working with source document management systems.
  • Submitting the software documentation for technical review.
  • Working on multiple documents simultaneously.

What Is a Software Technical Writer?

These technical writers write and maintain technical documents for software products. They play a key part in software development. They create the required documents that many companies need to have before a product can be released. Many times, a software product cannot be released without the necessary documentation. Therefore, having this job title is very valuable in today's world.

The technical writer is responsible for the communication between a company and its end-user. They take the technical information and deliver it in a useful and comprehensive way. These technical writers need to understand what information they need to communicate to the user, and what the best way to do that is.

Many people involved in software development are not able to properly communicate with the user the information that they need to know. For example, a developer may have such intricate, complex, and technical information about the program, that they have no idea how to explain it to a user in a way that is easy to understand.

That's where someone with technical writing experience comes in, takes all of the complex information they are given, and creates the technical documents. They gather all of the essential information, analyze their intended audience, then structure and write a cohesive document. They also update it when features or screens have changed in the program.

These technical writers also work in the program themselves and familiarize themselves with their subject matter. It is very difficult to write about something that you don't know, therefore, it is essential to be familiar with the ins-and-outs of a product.

The technical writer must understand what needs to be documented, for example, menu paths, screen call outs, and complete procedures. It is important to know when including a screenshot would be useful, or when another document should be cross-referenced, etc.

Education Requirements

To become a technical writer in this field, you must have a Bachelor's degree in a related field such as English, Computer Science, Computer Programming, or Communication. Many technical writing jobs also require a background in some technical field, experience working with technical products, being familiar with the technical writing process, with business writing, or other related jobs.

If you have the base education requirement already, you can take courses and certifications to learn how to create a technical document or technical documentation for scientific and technical products.

Some positions in technical writing may also require an Associates or Master's degree.

If you come from a non technical background, you can still get a job in technical writing. With strong writing skills and a desire to learn, a job in this field is achievable.

Valuable Skills

A technical writer must have strong writing skills and be interested in working with technical documentation and software. They must know the standard operating procedure of their organization and have working knowledge about many different technical topics.

For example, you may work for an organization that has a program for investment properties. The program can be very large, and have many different features. The part of this program that you create the documentation for is the financial part of the program. This means that you would need to have a strong background not only in technical writing, but also in finance, financial processes, and financial terminology.

These technical writers must know how to write technical information for an array of audiences, and have a fluid writing style. They must be comfortable interviewing people with different technical skills, such as a subject matter expert, and understand what information is valuable to the reader, and what is not.

Strong research skills are also an essential part of technical documentation. Technical writers need to gather large amounts of information to write software documentation. To obtain the information that they need, the technical writers must interview their fellow colleagues and ask them questions about how to setup the program, how the program works, and what the purpose of the program is. They have to research new and existing functionalities that they may not be fully knowledgable on.

How to Get a Job in Software Technical Writing

If you are interested in writing and software, a career in technical writing may be for you. To become a technical writer, it helps to have a background in writing, content development, software development, software engineering, or business administration. If you have a background in a related field, for example as a software developer or a product manager, you could also use that to your advantage when you look for a job.

If you don't have any experience creating a technical document, you can practice and create one to use in your portfolio. All technical writing jobs will require that you submit a portfolio of your written work that showcases your documentation and ability.

Strengthen your skills in writing, technical communication, and software documentation by taking online courses or enrolling in higher education classes. Try to connect with other technical writers and compare each other's writing. Engage in proactive discussions about how to deal with documentation challenges, and how to write stronger technical documents.

Broaden your technical knowledge by learning new tools needed for the job. For example, some technical writers need to know how to manage servers, or how to work with code. The more technical skills a technical writer has, the more valuable they are for their future company.

Try entering the field through another way. For example, maybe you have a background in engineering for the aerospace industry and you work in the field, but you want to shift your focus to work with the software. You can use your background and experience to get a job in technical writing for the aerospace industry.

You can also try making the transition from within your current company. Maybe you already work for a software company, but you are in the customer service department. You are talk with customers and take note of any issues they have with the software. Due to the fact that you work with the software on a daily basis, you have valuable, hands-on knowledge about how the program works. Not only that, because you speak with clients, you know what they need from the program and what issues they are having.

A few software companies that are always hiring are Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Adobe, Oracle, and Citrix. You can also check out our job section to find out about job openings near you. Many of these top companies accept applications on an ongoing basis, and will contact you if they have an opening that matches your profile.

Creating Great Software Documentation

There are many different types of technical writing, and each one requires something different. Software documentation must include technical and non technical details about the software. For example, setup and pre-requisite requirements, screen reference diagrams,

These are some of the things you need to consider when you are writing a document. Great software documentation must have:

  • Good audience analysis. A good tech writer must analyze their audience before they write their technical document. They need to determine how technical or non technical the information needs to be for their intended audience.

Technical writer audience

  • A structured outline. Before technical writes create their documentation, they must create an outline of what the document will include. This includes headers, subheads, and valuable information. It is essential that a document has a clear, clean, and logical outline.
  • Images and screenshots. Good documents include great images and screenshots. This should include the entire screen and important call outs. Technical writers that work in the same company must have clear guidelines about how they want to incorporate screenshots in their documents.
  • An end goal. Good documentation must consider what the user's end goal is. What is it they are trying to achieve, and what do they need to get there. What information do they need to know to setup, what background information do they need to have, what does a user need to accomplish.
  • Complete menu paths with correct screen names. A document must include complete menu paths and have the correct screen names. Many times, the screen names in the program are different than the ones in the technical documentation. A technical writer must ensure that their document has the entire menu path, followed by the screen name that is displayed on the screen.
  • Presentation. How are you going to present the information to the user? Are you going to write a user guide? What document type do you need? Will you need an instructional video? Do you need to include online help tokens in your documents? These are all important questions that a good technical writer asks themselves when they are writing technical documents.
  • Upkeep. Software is constantly changing. Technical writers need to update the documentation each time there is a new release or there is something new in the software. They must ensure that all of the current information displayed on the screen is correctly displayed in the documentation and archive the old document.

Examples of Great Software Technical Communication

The following are great examples of software technical communication. Note how each technical writer uses different methods to display the information, yet each are efficient in their own way. It is important to view different examples of how other writer's handle their technical documentation so that you can compare and contrast with your own writing.

  • Mailchimp's online help has several great functions: it 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 also has a search function that makes it easy for users to find exactly what they are looking for. It has a quick-start guide and a great documentation structure, divided by guides, popular articles, and a "what's new" section.
  • The target audience of Amazon's Developer documentation is developers. They divide their topics depending on the product, then have relevant topics for each product. This example is for an audience with more technical knowledge. In other words, the technical writing in this example is far more complex.
  • Stripe is also aimed at developers, but the technical writing is laid out differently. Nevertheless, it is also efficient and tidy, with different headers that divide each section. The technical writing is clear, informative, and understandable.

Is It the Right Career For You?

If you are interested in software and in technical writing, a career as a technical writer in technical communication may be for you. There are billions of software products currently in the market, and new ones come out daily. With the amount of software products, the need for people with an interest in technical writing is huge.

Technical writers work in an exhilarating environment with many different people. There is a large variety of subject matter available that you could focus on, depending on your interests. For example, a technical writer in this field could work for software focused on construction, accounting, marketing, or more. The possibilities are endless.

These technical writers are also often considered in the final decision making process because they have a clear understanding of what the user needs to complete their task. This means that the writers participate in development and forecasting meetings, so that they can provide their team with their feedback and ideas. Technical writers are always encouraged to provide valuable feedback to their team.

The technical communication field has a projected growth of 22% by 2030. According to Glassdoor, the average technical writer salary is $75,679, with a range of $53,000-108,00.

After 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 a technical writing career, you can check out this post to help you create a great resume to land that job.

Wrap Up

A career in software technical communication is exciting and evolving. There are millions of software programs from both large and small companies that need to be documented. Software programs are always changing, which means that technical writing will be around as long as software programs will be.

The need for people with an expertise in technical writing is essential in today's high-tech world. There are software applications for all sorts of different programs, which means that you can focus your technical writing career on a topic that peaks your interest. If you want to document some of the world's most exciting products, a career in the field of technical writing is for you!