Whether you are an aspiring technical writer, a technical writer who is new to the field, or an experienced technical writer, books on technical writing written by experts can help you learn new skills and grow in your career.
There are other avenues for learning about technical and professional communication such as technical writing courses and training. However, books offer the following advantages not found in other avenues of learning:
- Books are inexpensive compared to courses and training, and therefore are accessible to anyone who wants to learn.
- In most cases when you are looking for in-depth details of a particular subject, books are a better source of information.
- With books, you can learn what you want, when you want, and where you want.
- A book is a resource you can refer to whenever you need to.
In this article, we reviewed beginner-level books that provide an overview of technical writing, books that cover the essentials of good writing skills, modern approaches to product and documentation design, and books that cover the management of documentation projects and documentation teams.
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Best Technical Writing Books
Let’s dive right in and learn about the best books on technical writing.
Technical Writing 101
Technical Writing 101 is a good introduction to technical writing. The book is written in plain language and does not feel like a textbook. The content covers everything aspiring technical writers need to know.
The first chapters describe the day-to-day of the technical writing job. Subsequent chapters cover the technical writing process, tools for technical writers, research, visual communication, and the importance of being edited.
The book covers the importance of following templates and how structured authoring environments based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) streamline the content development process.
This third edition of the book features updated information on the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) standard for structured authoring. The book also explains the impact of Web 2.0 technologies-blogs, wikis, and forums-on technical communication.
An appendix in the book is dedicated to advice about applying for and landing a job as a technical writer.
About the Authors
Sarah O’Keefe is the founder of Scriptorium Publishing and a content strategy consultant. Sarah’s focus is on how to use technical content to solve business problems; she is especially interested in how new technologies can streamline publishing workflows to achieve strategic goals.
Sarah O’Keefe and Alan S. Pringle are also co-authors of Content Strategy 101 and The State of Structured Authoring.
To purchase, check out Technical Writing 101.
The Elements of Technical Writing
The Elements of Technical Writing is an essential guide for technical writing skills. It provides guidelines for writing clear, concise proposals, reports, manuals, letters, memos, and other documents in every technical field.
The first chapter identifies the ten principles that make technical writing good technical writing. The next four chapters focus on the rules of English language grammar and punctuation, principles of communication, as well as commonly misused words and phrases.
Chapters six through nine break away from the English language rules and get down to the specifics of writing proposals, technical articles and reports, letters and memos, and manuals.
The authors practice what they preach: their writing is clear and interesting. The Elements of Technical Writing is written for technical writers but is also a valuable reference guide for other writers. This concise guide is an indispensable part of any technical writer’s library.
About the Authors
For thirty years, Gary Blake has written books and has been the director of The Communication Workshop, which offers writing webinars and seminars across the US.
Robert Bly is a freelance direct-response copywriter with almost four decades of experience in multichannel marketing. Before becoming an independent direct response copywriter, Bob was an advertising manager for Koch Engineering, a process equipment manufacturer. Robert Bly is the author of more than 100 books.
To purchase, check out The Elements of Technical Writing.
The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing
The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing is a comprehensive guide to the field of technical writing. It is considered by many readers a classic in the field. The book contains many insights, tips, and advice for beginning technical writers or those who have been on the job for years.
The first edition was released in 2012. A new 2022 edition is updated for the technical writer of today.
The book covers both the profession and technical writing. It is divided into six parts:
- Is This Job for Me? What does it take to become a technical writer and how do you get started?
- Building the Foundation: What skills and tools do you need to get started? How do you get to know your audience and write in a way that works for them?
- The Best Laid Plans: How do you create a schedule that won’t make you go crazy? How do you learn about the technology you will be writing about, handle the tools you need for the job, and manage the development process, including Agile methodologies?
- On the Job: What does it take to walk into a job and be productive right away?
- The Tech Writer Toolkit: How do you create style guides, indexes, templates, and layouts? How do you manage localization, translation, and all the other non-writing parts of the job?
- I Love My Job: How do you handle the ups and downs of being a technical writer?
The author draws on her own experience and writes in a conversational style that is enjoyable to read. She does not sugarcoat anything but rather lays out the realities regarding the challenges involved: the technical writing path is full of deadlines, changes, and stress. The author also emphasizes that the benefits outweigh the challenges in the field.
About the Author
Krista Van Laan has several years of experience writing and managing writers in software, telecommunications, hardware, and Internet service companies. She has written or co-written two books on technical writing.
To purchase, check out The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing.
Handbook of Technical Writing
Handbook of Technical Writing, now in its 12th edition, is a comprehensive resource for technical writing students and professionals. The book is alphabetically organized and easy to use. The explanations are simple and understandable.
The book contains almost 400 entries that provide guidance for the most common professional technical documents and correspondence, including reports, proposals, manuals, memos, and white papers.
The book also contains several sample documents. In addition, visuals demonstrate effective technical communication, reflecting current practices for formatting documents.
About the Authors
Gerald J. Alred is a Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and several standard bibliographies on business and technical communication and is co-author of The Business Writer’s Handbook and Handbook of Technical Writing.
Walter E. Oliu served as chief of the Publishing Services Branch at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He has taught at Miami University of Ohio, Slippery Rock State University, and as an adjunct faculty member at Montgomery College and George Mason University.
Charles T. Brusaw was a faculty member at NCR Corporation’s Management College, where he developed and taught courses in professional writing, editing, and presentation skills for the corporation worldwide. Previously, he worked in advertising, technical writing, public relations, and curriculum development.
To purchase, check out Handbook of Technical Writing.
Technical Writing Process
The Technical Writing Process outlines a five-step process that any technical writer can use to create technical documentation such as a user guide, manual, or procedure. These five steps are Plan, Structure, Write, Review and Publish.
The book is aimed at a broad spectrum of technical writers: aspiring technical writers and students of technical writing, non-writers assigned with the task of creating technical documentation, established writers who want to bring more structure to their work, and anyone managing a documentation project.
Compared to earlier texts that cover the management of documentation projects, The Technical Writing Process contains information that is more relevant to the modern workplace that relies on Agile methodologies.
About the Author
Kieran Morgan has worked in technical writing, program management, and senior management roles for some of Australia’s highest-profile companies.
To purchase, check out Technical Writing Process.
The Product is Docs: Writing Technical Documentation in a Product Development Group
The Product is Docs is a collection of essays that cover essential aspects of creating technical documentation in today’s product development world. It is a useful guide for people new to a career in technical writing, experienced writers who want to update their skills, and managers looking for guidance.
The author and his team present down-to-earth strategies for establishing constructive and collaborative relationships in often tight timeline environments.
This book describes several ways in which strengthening the relationships between documentation and other functional teams is instrumental in delivering a high-quality product, maintaining customer trust, and staying competitive in the modern world.
About the Author
Christopher Gales is the Senior Director of Documentation at Splunk. He is an experienced technical communications and software program management leader. Christopher has 25+ years of experience in technical communications, program management, and design.
To purchase, check out The Product is Docs.
Managing Your Documentation Projects
Managing Your Documentation Projects is a classic resource for professional technical writers. It is a book devoted exclusively to technical publication project management. Despite being 20 years old, it is still relevant for planning and managing technical communication and documentation projects.
The book provides the following:
- Clear-cut, rational guidelines for managing every phase of the project from planning and development, through production, distribution, and project evaluation
- Scores of usable templates, checklists, summaries, and forms
- Dozens of real-life case studies and scenarios taken from the author’s extensive experience at top corporations
- Techniques applicable to all fields of documentation
About the Author
JoAnn T. Hackos is a lecturer, consultant, and author of several books about technical communication. Now retired, Dr. Hackos is the founder of the Center for Information-Development Management and the president emeritus of Comtech Services in Denver, Colorado.
To purchase, check out Managing Your Documentation Projects.
Managing Writers: A Real World Guide To Managing Technical Documentation
Managing Writers is a practical guide to managing documentation projects and is focused on the people side of documentation projects. It is a great resource for technical writers and managers who lead technical writing teams.
The book is concise, well-written, thoughtful, and practical. It presents a useful framework for managing technical writing projects that consider the following three dimensions: time, content, and resources.
The book has three major parts:
- People: Covers concrete strategies and tactics for hiring, motivating, managing change, evaluating performance, outsourcing, and off-shoring.
- Projects: Outlines techniques to help you increase your team’s influence, manage schedules, balance multiple projects, and collaborate with the rest of the product development team.
- Technology: Help you decide what technology you need, what you don’t need, how to acquire what you need, how to avoid common pitfalls, and how to stay ahead of the technology curve. It goes into depth concerning XML, content management, and modular documentation.
About the Author
Richard L. Hamilton began his career at Bell Laboratories developing computer software and has worked at AT&T, Unix System Laboratories, Novell, and Hewlett-Packard in jobs ranging from software development to product management to documentation management. In 2008 he founded XML Press, which is dedicated to producing high-quality, practical publications for technical communicators, managers, and marketers.
To purchase, check out Managing Writers: A Real World Guide To Managing Technical Documentation.
All the books reviewed in this article are written by experts with many years of experience. The biggest benefit of learning from those with experience is that you can learn from their shared insights without having to spend years or decades on the job.
Whether it is learning about technical writing skills, the technical writing profession, managing documentation projects, managing teams of writers, or the best advice regarding the technical writer career path, books provide one of the most credible sources of insight and information.
So select a good book on technical writing, learn from it, and apply what you learn. Then select another good book on technical writing.
Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep growing.