What is a Technical Writer? Definition + Examples
Turning basic technical information into valuable technical content requires a broad set of skills. Professionals looking to make a career out of this would usually become technical content writers. However, the job description has diversified a lot. It brings up what a technical writer is in this day and age and some professional examples of the technical writer.
Despite being more complex than in the past, the technical writer's job is growing in popularity.
If you are interested in writing within the technical field, keep reading. In this article, you'll get an in-depth dive into what a technical writer does and examples of their different technical writing subject areas. If you're looking to learn via video, see this resource. Otherwise, skip ahead.
What is a Technical Writer?
A technical writer is a professional who creates technical documents including user manuals, journal articles, engineering instruction manuals, medical guides, product samples, user guides, product guides, and technical reports.
A technical writer works with complex information, transforming it into actionable steps and data that various consumers and technical staff can utilize to perform their jobs. Depending on the technical documentation the company requires, writers may be responsible for all of the company literature.
A senior technical writer may also lead content departments as subject matter experts for various technical product accounts at their host company.
Here are some of the responsibilities that come with the technical writer job description:
- Plan technical documentation development
- Research through the internet and various data channels for the required information
- Collect (high-usability) information that's best for concise, end user-friendly content
The position can also include some elements of business writing and document design based on the technical skillset that employers demand. Furthermore, a content writer can also function as a technical writer with minimal training in some instances.
Technical Writers Work Responsibilities and Job Duties
Since it's a vast professional area, a technical writer can have varying responsibilities.
These often depend on the company that has hired them, the industry it's operating in, or the specific technical writing skills they have accumulated in their professional experience.
Nevertheless, almost all professionals operating in the technical writing field have some essential job duties and responsibilities to undertake.
These are primary responsibilities that anybody looking to adopt a technical writing career has to anticipate.
Subject and Topic Research
Research is the cornerstone of any writer's process, especially when creating content backed with good ideas and useful facts.
This is even more necessary for technical writing since some forms of documentation, when crafted correctly, can help companies avoid legal trouble. Similarly, practical instructional manuals and guides can help prevent operational mishaps and accidents, especially for complicated and major machinery.
A technical writer goes above and beyond fundamental research when looking for facts and insight on the subject.
They gather as much information as possible about a subject and then sift through it to single out the details they need. A technical writer uses the information needs of the audience and their ability to comprehend what's written.
Writing on the technical side already involves being very direct with the writer's information. This requires solid and timely facts that will carry the weight of the content.
Depending on the type of technical writer and the task they're working on, they will use their writing time to organize all the facts in order of importance to the text. Then, they will build the rest of the content around it.
For example, a writer working on a white paper will collect facts about certain events when describing the problem. Then, they will organize those facts to best support the solution.
Organizing facts helps writers fine-tune their writing process and dedicate more time to practical research.
Create and Deliver Content
The writers take the set content guidelines at their company and align their accumulated content with crafting content that will assist the technical staff and clientele as per its function.
This specific responsibility is where writing styles and formats differ the most since dozens of types of content fall under the 'technical writing' umbrella.
Some writers may perform an internet search and create content similar to what they find while modifying it to suit project needs. Others may look through academic texts and manuals and craft their version of these simply from the formatting knowledge.
Regardless of their content development process, the writers have to generate content and then deliver it to the pre-decided audience through existing channels.
Some writers may also be responsible for content distribution and promotion. This is usually the case with small to medium-sized enterprises with limited technical writing resources.
Develop Content Guidelines
A technical writer who has gained some experience with companies often provides job training to newer writers. And, technical writers work with many different groups of people while developing content.
A part of this training involves creating technical documents based on guidelines that the senior writers develop according to ongoing technical documents' needs.
The guidelines themselves are an essential part of how technical writers work at their company. Depending on the hierarchy, they may also lead the company to create better, more efficient guidelines for future technical writers' work efforts.
Additionally, the content guidelines for any business need updating alongside changing business goals and requirements.
Senior technical content strategists are the point people to better develop new guidelines to reflect new business goals as central technical communicators.
If you're interested in learning more about the technical writing skills, roles, and path to landing your dream technical writing job, then check out our Technical Writing Certification Course.
Different Types of Technical Writing [Job Examples]
As mentioned initially, technical writing jobs have developed into a diverse job market, with several different positions now coming under the technical writing jobs umbrella.
Here are some primary examples of technical writing jobs you can find in the market.
1. Medical Writing
Medical writers are responsible for producing the majority of the literature you read in clinical journals and health magazine articles, journal articles, web page copy for healthcare sites, regulatory agency documents, medicinal product descriptions, etc.
Their technical knowledge revolves around the medical field. The target audience for the content consists of medical students, hospital staff, and various healthcare workers.
Most medical writers are employed by drug companies and educational institutes, with the rest finding jobs at healthcare facilities and with independent medical journals. A small percentage of writers work at government healthcare regulation authorities.
The technical skills required for modern medical writers include:
- High-level editorial skills with extensive knowledge of medical terminology
- Comprehensive knowledge of clinical processes and biomedical equipment
- Theoretical understanding of all applicable laws and regulatory requirements
- Knowledge of product or procedure approval processes
- Ability to perform accurate quantitative analysis of healthcare data and medicine-related events
The best medical writers can accumulate and comprehend all manner of medicinal information and produce engaging and easily understandable guides and articles out of it.
2. End-User Documents
End-user documents are the product descriptions and usage guides that accompany any purchased product.
Technical documentation development is one of the fundamental tasks for most writers in this field, with product descriptions and usage guides making up most of the content they produce.
End-user documentation specialists are often a part of the user experience (UX) development teams. Their responsibilities, in this regard, are to ensure that the end-user has an easier time using that product than they would have without the documents.
End-user document writers need to have various technical skills, including:
- The ability to effectively comprehend the target audience and end-user behavior
- Complete product ownership, especially from a marketing and sales perspective
- Knowledge of how to turn complex and jargon-rich technical information into layman's terms
- Detail-oriented approach to writing instruction manuals with a high level of clarity
- Sales-centric content writing with the right amount of information for a non-technical audience
Overall, professionals who work on software documentation need to learn as much about the product or process they are writing about. This is to ensure that the readers attain as much knowledge as they need to use the product or implement the process without the content becoming too complex for their understanding.
3. Computer Science/IT Product Specialists
Writing for the more technology-oriented technical areas is like any other form of industry-based writing. The only difference is the requirement for tech-savvy individuals in the writer's position.
The computer science and information technology sector places writers within the systems design and analysis field. These writers are often closer to the system than most technical writers are to the subject they are writing on. This is because they take a deep dive into the system to articulate its specifics clearly. Most technical writers may not need to engage scientific and technical products so immediately.
CS/IT writers are prime examples of content developers who can transform extremely complex industry jargon into understandable content for the masses.
An example is Microsoft's product description writers, who simplify their language to the point where people can still understand the product without much software knowledge.
Technical writers in computers and IT have a technical skill requirement that includes:
- Proven expertise with the systems
- Thorough understanding of computer science concepts along with some experience in IT systems administration
- Knowledge of the corporate IT sector and how modern companies leverage technology
- An ability to prepare technical material for both students and administrators
- Some experience in writing on CS/IT subjects either during the educational process or subsequent internships
Writing in computer science requires someone who has either worked directly as part of an IT department or has taken an eLearning course on how to write for the industry.
4. Case Study/White Paper Writers
White papers and case studies fall into two distinct writing categories: research-intensive.
These writers' ability to write on various technical subjects, with an affinity for marketing-related content, means case studies and white papers succeed at a company for product development.
Technical writers specializing in investigative research can be from a journalistic or academic background.
Some of the skills required by these writers include:
- Excellent attention to detail while performing research on the most complicated topics
- Some sense of writing analytically, with valid examples and on-point research
- An innate writing style that's suited to marketing a company's product or services
- High-level observation skills to recognize patterns and similar results when writing case studies
- Extraordinary command over the English language
Some technical writers may also be dedicated academic content developers employed at universities and research centers.
Typical Qualifications for Technical Writers
Generally speaking, technical writers have an undergraduate degree with firsthand experience in a content writing capacity.
However, the job market is varied, and writing jobs require a similar variety of qualifications.
Here are some of the most prevalent ones:
- Bachelor's degree in English linguistics
- Vocational diploma in writing for business
- Technical writing or technical content development certification
Educational bodies such as the Society for Technical Communication offer a ton of online help for students who want to adopt technical writing as a career and improve their communication skills within a technical framework.
Job Statistics for Technical Writers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there is a 7 percent projected growth in technical writing job opportunities for technical writers from 2019 to 2029.
These statistics are for full-time writers as well as freelancers writers currently working in any of the technical content development genres.
There's a tremendous opportunity for job seekers who are looking to start their professional lives with technical writing or existing writers looking to transition into the technical side.
Technical writing can be an exciting field for technical communicators seeking better opportunities to expand their skills and engage both professionals and consumers with their content.
For anyone looking to enter into the technical writing realm, it's important to do a healthy amount of research into what the position entails and to expand their skill horizons before applying for greater career success.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions about what a technical writer is:
What are the requirements to be a technical writer?
To become a technical writer, one should have good grammar skills, excellent writing skills, and an understanding of how software works.
In addition, they need to know what kind of information their audience needs to use it properly.
You'll also want someone who has experience with documentation design so that you're sure your instructions are clear enough for whoever reads them! The person will usually work closely with engineers and developers before launch to make sure what's written reflects the design specifications.
How do you become a technical writer?
To become a technical writer, you should get a bachelor's degree in English or a technical writing certification.
You could also get one in journalism or communications with a specific focus on technology and software development if you wish to be more specialized. Sometimes the best way to gain experience is by interning at companies that have specialization requirements for new employees, such as Microsoft or Apple. They may not hire you when they end your internship (because of their search restrictions), but it'll still help develop skills.
What are examples of technical writing?
Some examples of technical writing are:
- Product manuals
- Executive summaries for investors or venture capitalists
- Instructions and how-to guides explain how to use a product, software, or website.
Is a technical writer a promising career?
A technical writer is a good career option because people will always need help understanding how to use products, software, or websites.
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.