Turning raw 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, to the point where it brings up the question of what is a technical writer in this day and age, and what are some professional examples of technical writers.
Despite being more complex than in the past, the technical writer's job is growing in popularity.
In case you are interested in writing within the technical field, keep reading. In this article, I'll provide an in-depth dive into what a technical writer does, and provide some examples of the different technical writing subject areas they professionally indulge in. If you're looking to learn via video, see this resource. Otherwise, skip ahead.
Let's get into it.
What is a Technical Writer? [An Overview]
A technical writer is someone who creates professional content such as technical documents, user manuals, journal articles, engineering instruction manuals, medical guides, product samples, and misc technical reports.
Usually, technical writers work 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.
Senior technical writers 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, general content writers can also function as technical writers with minimal to no extra training in some instances.
Technical Writer Responsibilities and Job Duties
Since it's a very vast professional area, technical writers 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 basic job duties and responsibilities to undertake.
These are some of the primary responsibilities that anybody looking to adopt a technical writing career has to look forward to.
Subject and Topic Research
Research is the cornerstone of any writer's process, especially when it comes to creating content that's backed with valid ideas and facts.
This is even more necessary for technical writing since some forms of documentation, when crafted correctly, can help companies avoid legal trouble. Similarly, effective instructional manuals and guides, especially for complicated and major machinery, can help avoid any operational mishaps and accidents.
Technical writers go above and beyond just fundamental research when looking for facts and insight on the subject.
They simultaneously gather as much information as they can about a subject and then sift through it to single out the details they need. All of this is done with the information needs of the audience, as well as their ability to comprehend what's written.
Writing on the technical side already involves being very direct with the information the writer is giving out. This requires strong 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 dedicate a portion of their allotted writing time to organizing 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 they're describing the problem. Then, they will organize those facts in a way that best supports the solution.
Organizing facts in a specific manner helps writers fine-tune their writing process and dedicate more time to effective research.
Create and Deliver Content
The writers take the set content guidelines at their company and align their accumulated content in order to craft 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 there are dozens of types of content that fall under the 'technical writing' umbrella.
Some writers may simply perform an internet search and create content similar to what they find while modifying it slightly to suit project needs. Others may look through academic texts and manuals, and craft their own version of these simply from the formatting knowledge they have gained.
Regardless of how their own content development process goes, the writers have to generate content and then deliver it through existing channels to the pre-decided audience.
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
Technical writers who have gained some experience in the field and with their host companies are often asked to provide job training to newer writers.
A part of this training involves creating content based on a set of guidelines that the senior writers develop according to ongoing content needs.
The guidelines themselves are an essential part of a senior technical writer's job at their company. Depending on the hierarchy, they may also lead the company's efforts to create better, more efficient guidelines for future technical content efforts.
Additionally, the content guidelines for any business need to be updated with changing business goals and requirements.
Being major technical communicators, senior technical content strategists are the point people when it comes to developing new guidelines to better reflect new business goals.
If you're interested in learning more about the technical writing role and landing your dream technical writing job, then check out our Technical Writing Certification Course.
Different Types of Technical Writers [Job Examples]
As mentioned at the beginning, technical writing has developed into a very diverse job title, with several different positions now coming under the technical writer umbrella.
Here are some of the primary examples of technical writing positions you can find in the market.
1. Medical Writers
Medical writers are responsible for producing the majority of the literature you read in clinical journals, as well as health magazine articles, web page copy for healthcare sites, regulatory agency documents, medicinal product descriptions, etc.
Their technical knowledge revolves around the medical field and the target audience for the content consists of medical students, hospital staff, and various healthcare workers.
The majority of 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 are also employed at government healthcare regulation authorities.
The skills required for modern medical writers include:
- High-level editorial skills with extensive knowledge of medical terminology
- Extensive 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
Needless to say, the best medical writers have the ability to accumulate and comprehend all manner of medicinal information and produce engaging and easily understandable guides and articles out of it.
2. End-User Document Writers
End-user documents are the product descriptions and usage guides that accompany any product that you purchase.
Technical documentation development is one of the fundamental tasks for most writers in this field, with product descriptions and usage guides making up the majority 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 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 as they can 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 just like any other form of industry-based writing, with the only difference being the requirement for tech-savvy individuals in the writer's position.
The computer science and information technology world places writers within the systems design and analysis field. These writers are often closer to the system than other technical writers are to the subject they are writing on. This is because they take a deep dive into the system, in order to articulate its specifics clearly.
CS/IT writers are the prime examples of content developers who can transform extremely complex industry jargon into content that is understandable for the masses.
An example of this example is Microsoft's product description writers who simplify their language to the point where people without much software knowledge can still understand the product.
Technical writers in computers and IT have a technical skill requirement that includes:
- Proven expertise with the systems they are developing content on, and the ones they are using daily
- 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
Basically, 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, both of them research-intensive.
These writers the ability to write on a variety of technical subjects, with an affinity for marketing-related content. Furthermore, case studies and white papers are meant to signify the success of a company with regard to product development.
That's why they're almost always done by writers who are better at detailed research and analysis.
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 in an analytical manner, 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/or 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.
In addition to that, the job itself is diversifying with the coming of new technology and operational processes in just about every industry. This presents 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 interesting 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.
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.