Technical writing skills are constantly changing with the growing needs and demands of technology. The ability to identify the exact primary skills that can help you advance in your technical career can be a bit tricky.
In this article, we will discuss in detail the top in-demand technical skills, what they entail, and how to hone them in 2021. If you're looking to learn via video, see this resource. Otherwise, skip ahead.
Let’s get started.
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Technical Writing Skills You Need to Become a Technical Writer
All technical writers are constantly expanding their skill set considering the need of the time – the digital age. Since their career is growing rapidly, the demand for a diverse set of technical skills is also on the rise.
Following are the top technical writing skills every technical writer should possess in 2021:
1. Communication Skills
First and foremost, technical writers are technical communicators. This means that they’re experts at identifying/adapting their communication according to the knowledge and understanding of their audience.
To that end, a technical writer should work on polishing the following communication skills include:
- Clarity – the ability to be cohesive, concise, and clear in both their verbal and written communication.
- Purpose – prior to their interaction with the audience they are well aware why it is important to communicate in the first place, the purpose of what they are communicating, and what problems they are aiming to resolve for the end users.
- Openness – they deliver an overall positive tone in their communicated message, avoiding all sorts of patronizing and negative remarks or instructions.
- Confidence – in order for their content and message to be trusted, they avoid hesitance and uncertainty through the consistent pursuit of knowledge, and are always self-assured in their areas of expertise.
- High Regard for Ideas and Opinions of Others – a technical writer shouldn’t be arrogant. Their goal is to serve the audience, therefore they make sure they respect the different perspectives and needs of their audience by incorporating it in their technical communication.
Furthermore, a technical writers' role involves actively listening and planning before they contribute to the verbal or written discourse.
2. Technical Skills
Technical skills are a broad term used for the knowledge and understanding of industry-specific technology (including their product and services).
Even though many technical writers pursue their higher education in a technical field (such as engineering or information technology), primarily the technical skills of a technical writer refer to their technical knowledge of their subject matter of interest.
Considering that, the technical skills of a writer are just an expanding ocean of knowledge in different fields of their interest and the interest of the they are working for.
However, on a general note, a few of the in-demand technical skills include:
- Project Management
- Product Development
- Programming Languages
- User Experience (UX) Design
Apart from these, senior technical writers are good at document management through various productivity software.
3. Research Skills
A technical writer’s process cannot begin without extensive research. Each technical document they create is backed by important information received through feedback from end-users and subject matter experts.
However, for a clearer overview, technical research can be divided into these two broad categories:
- Audience Analysis – this is the research that is conducted throughout the process for a certain type of technical content. This involves understanding the target audience, including their demographics, their level of technical knowledge related to the product/, and their interests and needs.
- User Experience – this includes the readability research conducted for the technical documentation on the final users after the product or feature has been launched (such as usability testing, which explains how easy it is to use a product for the target users).
Whereas everything else in the research process pertinent to the scientific conduction of the research is a prerequisite for every technical writer (such as metrics, data collection, data analysis, etc).
4. Writing Skills
Since technical writers are required to write different types of technical content, they must have a flexible approach to and knowledge of different styles.
The most common types of content that they must know how to create include:
- User Manuals – (often used interchangeably with the broader term, online help or the more detailed, user guides) these are documents that contain instructions for end-users on how to use a particular product, software, or process.
- Technical Reports – these are reports that maintain complex information about a specific product in understandable format, including its development, progress and product history.
- Policies and Procedures – these include, documenting guidelines for the appropriate usage of industry assets and technology in order to ensure a safe and productive work environment.
- Case Studies – are documents that explore end-users interaction with the product, and analyze technical complex information for future improvements.
Additionally, technical writers are expected to write and manage their content on specific tools, such as Microsoft (MS) Word, RoboHelp (for help files), and FrameMaker (for formatting), etc.
5. Editing Skills
Apart from skills, technical writers have the ability to critically analyze their work, edit and format, and consistently make improvements until the technical information becomes completely comprehensible to the desired audience.
While editing a technical draft, technical writers should consider the following:
- Content review
- Spelling and punctuation
- Structure and style
- Tone of voice
- Technical vocabulary
Overall, they make sure that their document is following the exact format and guidelines of the specific technical content at hand.
If you're interested in learning more about editing technical documentation and other technical writing skills, then check out our Technical Writing Certification Course.
6. Design Skills
It is important to remember that technical writers not only communicate technical information in a written format, but they are also expected to visually represent the data in the form of graphs, infographics, videos, etc, in order to make the content more appealing and easily digestible for the user.
Considering that, some of the in-demand design skills a technical writer needs include:
- Information Design – the ability to visually and verbally represent information (including facts, graphs, statistics, tables, and figures) in the most accessible way, which is commonly understood by the specific audience.
- Information Architecture – the ability to structure and organize information in the most user-friendly way.
- Typography – the ability to arrange and present written word in the most appropriate and legible manner depending upon the type of technical document.
- Basics of Graphic Design – the ability to visually communicate complex information in the form of helpful illustrations.
All of the above skills necessitate the knowledge of widely used design software, such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.
Even though technical writing jobs are assumed to be desk jobs, most technical writers are required to work with employees from all departments, and diverse target audiences.
Therefore, every good technical writer knows how to work collaboratively with different people from different backgrounds and areas of knowledge and expertise.
When it comes to teamwork, a technical writer should have the following skillset:
- Team Building Skills – technical writers are active listeners, observant and they make sure every voice of authority is heard and every feedback is incorporated in their consultation and process.
- Conflict Resolution Skills – when it gets hard to understand product language, team members, and target audiences, and they fall into disagreements, they’re quick at resolving them by finding different ways to communicate anything that was misunderstood.
- Problem Solving Skills – the ability to promptly derive innovative solutions to problems that arise in their process.
- Decision Making Skills – they are good at trusting their instincts and competence, making calculated but firm decisions when it comes to finding solutions for end-users.
- Planning and Organizational Skills – they know how to plan, structure and manage different technical documentation projects, and make sure to deliver them timely.
- The Art of Persuasion – to find a common ground with developers and subject matter experts, and for their say to be valued, it is important to have influence.
Apart from the above, individuals must possess tolerance, empathy, and perseverance in order to smoothly navigate through the technical writer job function and successfully apply their skillset.
How to Develop Your Technical Writing Skills
Now that we’ve listed the essentials technical writing skills, the question arises, how to hone them?
Here are a few actionable steps you can take to improve or acquire technical writing skills:
- Complete Your Education – technical writers are encouraged when they possess a bachelor’s degree in a technical field such as engineering, information technology, or communications (Journalism, English, etc).
- Take Different Courses and Training Programs – many skills such as technical writing and graphic design skills can easily be learned through online/onsite courses. It is wise to with investing in a course.
- Follow the Professionals – it is important to look at all the resources from subject matter experts that are from your field of interest, including their books, guides, articles, and training programs, etc.
- Research Your Field – in order to consistently improve your skills, it is important that you have the access to all the good technical content resources, which means you’ll have to stay updated with your industry.
- On the Job Training – there are a lot of employers that are willing to give training to technical writers in order for them to understand how things work within their organization. However, it is equally important to show them your enthusiasm and dedication. Put together a compelling technical writer resume and go for it.
Again – all you need is the determination to become a technical writer, and the technical skills will follow with the right investments.
The aforementioned list of technical writing skills is comprehensive enough for anyone to working on acquiring or improving them.
However, before you begin, you must remember, technical writers do not write for the sake of technology, but for one and only one purpose alone, to make technology accessible.
Therefore, if you’re considering a career in technical writing, make sure to with the right mindset.
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 fundamentals of being a technical writer, how to dominate technical writer interviews, and how to stand out as a technical writing candidate.