How Has Technical Writing Changed and What Does It Take to Become a Pro in 2021?
- The role of technical writers has changed dramatically over the last few years.
- To become a professional in this field, you need to possess skills like marketing, targeting, knowledge of various tools, and web design, despite obvious writing and copy-editing skills.
- As this profession and the requirements for working as a tech writer regularly change, it’s crucial to keep up-to-date with the newest technologies in your niche.
Table of Content
- What Does It Take to Be a Demanded Technical Writer?
- What are the Essential Skills Every Technical Writer Should Possess?
- The Latest Changes to the Technical Writing Job in the Past Decade
- 9 Critical Technical Writing Skills to Know For a Successful Career
- Final Thoughts
What Does It Take to Be a Demanded Technical Writer?
In addition to apparent skills such as general writing and copy-editing skills, it’s crucial to keep up with the ever-changing trends in the overall technology space. While it may seem relatively straightforward, keeping up with the latest cutting-edge trends can be tedious – many people have personality types that make it challenging to embrace new processes.
Many writers struggle to adapt to digital transformation due to the many changing careers. To be successful, technical writers should meet changing demands and become key players in the business.
In this article, we’re going to discuss what it takes to become a professional technical writer, the skills and qualities these writers possess, and what future technical writers should do to improve their talents.
What are the Essential Skills Every Technical Writer Should Possess?
- A clear understanding and knowledge of your product
- Deep understanding of the industry where you work
- A good grasp of targeting and marketing
- Fundamentals of technical documentation
- Communication and teamwork
- Knowledge of software tools for writing technical documents
- Basic graphic and web design skills
- Research skills
The Latest Changes to the Technical Writing Job in the Past Decade
1. Moving from product teams to user-centric
Product manufacturers have sought to balance product feature lists with cost and time to market in the past. Still, this approach has a high product failure rate. That’s how the concept of user-centered design and development appeared. The product user and their requirements are now the focal points around which all product development occurs.
2. The product documentation has been expanded to cover all product life cycle phases.
In the traditional sense, technical documentation refers to installation instructions and user guides. However, in a modern context, a technical writer may be involved in a technical document before the research phase, a new user training guide, or writing API documentation for software products.
3. In the product documentation, not only text content but also audiovisual content.
User attention intensity, especially in the digital world, has plummeted. Communication becomes ineffective if you cannot deliver a key message within a few seconds. That’s why visual content has gained widespread acceptance as the preferred content style for documentation.
Today, the high-speed Internet allows users to stream videos, enabling the creation of video-based documentation. So, we would rather watch a short one minute video, “Unboxing a Laptop”, instead of sitting and reading a step-by-step installation guide for a long time.
4. Product documentation moves from one-way static information to interactive communication.
Gone are the days when help documentation sounded like a sermon, providing users with the same content regardless of their level of experience, role, etc. For example, a car service manual would describe the entire process of “changing a flat tire”. “While a beginner may find this helpful, an experienced mechanic will find it trivial or disrespectful.
Modern technical writing tools use augmented reality and custom content delivery to solve this problem and deliver information to the right user based on user feedback and preferences. Online technical documentation tools like Whatfix are prime examples of such tools.
9 Critical Technical Writing Skills to Know For a Successful Career
The job of a technical writer has changed dramatically over the past few years. Today, specialists should not only know how to write competent beautiful copies but also learn the elements of marketing and targeting.
So, here are nine crucial technical writing skills that will boost your career in the next decade.
1. A clear understanding of your product and niche.
A clear understanding of what you’re writing about is the critical skill you need for quality technical writing. It includes
- product functions
- its primary purpose and the solution it provides
- performance, stability and other non-functional aspects of the product
- troubleshooting, repair and replacement
Since technical writers view a product as a black box, they’re not required to know internal components, design aspects, etc., written in the programming languages PHP, C ++ and D.
Still, there is an additional aspect of integration with other software products when it comes to technical documentation for software platforms. In these cases, you should know the interfaces (hardware interfaces, software API) that the product has.
2. Deep knowledge of the industry where you work.
Unlike entry-level programmers, tech writers have a tough time switching from one industry to another. That’s because technical writers need to understand how products work. So, they are often deployed as part of a larger overall business industry solution.
An example is HCM software. If you had worked at Workday before, you would have extensive knowledge of HCM software. If you were to leave Workday for a new hospitality management software company, you would investigate an entirely new industry – the hospitality industry.
The accumulated knowledge in the subject area is a trump card in the sleeve of specialists if they plan to work in similar types of companies and products.
3. Targeting the audience.
It’s all about the individual interaction with the user.
Before products go to market, the tester and technical writer act as proxy users, they install, configure, run, and troubleshoot a product according to specifications.
However, users come in many different forms. We have one user who can perform all product-related tasks for many consumer products – imagine someone writing a white paper for a microwave oven.
At the same time, large-scale, commercially deployed products will have many different users reading white papers. An example would be a video surveillance system in a department store. The target user of the installation guide is the installation engineer, and the target user of the troubleshooting guide is the service technician. They may even belong to different service companies.
Technical writers in many companies act as UX (User Experience) engineers simultaneously. Basic skills required:
- Install, deploy, execute, analyze service time use case
- Profiling B2B or B2C users
B2B users are resellers, system integrators, or software platform developers. They know the system from the inside and are preoccupied with technical aspects such as operating system environments, hardware specifications, software APIs, build tools, test automation – especially when multiple products and platforms are deployed as a composite solution.
B2C users are primarily non-professionals for whom it’s essential to use the product as a black box. So, the product documentation should be from that point of view.
4. Basics of technical documentation
Technical documentation has always been an integral part of the product life cycle. Before the advent of the Internet, technical documentation was the only way a company communicated with a user at any stage.
It would be great to keep track of technical email examples from other brands in your industry as inspiration when creating new technical papers or analyzing how to improve yours.
5. Mastering the communication mode.
Physical products come with document booklets. On-premises software applications may include installation, use, or maintenance of PDF documents. At the same time, SaaS products can have user documentation formats such as contextual web help, FAQs, pop-ups, inline videos.
New technology trends such as augmented reality make their way into everyday product reviews, support centers, and documentation.
The way of communication is determined by the user’s attitude to the product. So, the technical writer should be aware that the custom function defines the communication mode, not the other way around.
6. Experience with popular software tools for writing technical articles.
Document management, layout design, writing, audio and video editing are tasks that a technical writer can perform. There are tools available for each of them – some free, some expensive.
Appropriate software tools are required depending on your company and product profile. These resources on the best software tools for technical writing and the best software for technical writing are great to start.
7. Basic graphic and web design skills.
Until recently, technical writing was rudimentary, and specialists used basic text editor tools such as Notepad to create documentation. However, innovative new documentation and writing tools are pushing to include new interactive teaching methods such as interactive graphics, in-app guidance, and improved UX/UI navigation in their layout.
Some knowledge of graphic design and web design is the technical writing skill that will boost your career in 2021.
8. Research skills
Researching a topic well enough to be an expert is critical to being a good specialist for any writing. This includes technical writers. They need to thoroughly understand their product and target audience through rigorous audience research and analysis. It also means a deep knowledge of data analysis and presenting and collecting data that requires careful validation.
9. Teamwork and work with others
Communication is a critical skill for the success of any professional. For technical writers, working well with your team means working closely with the programmers and developers so that they explain all aspects of their product in detail. This means transparent timelines and meetings with your project leaders.
Technical writing is all about writing technical information that includes preparing technical manuals and guides but is not limited to.
Specialists in this sphere need to have good writing skills because they convey complex information. They also need a deep knowledge of technology because it’s difficult to explain what you don’t understand.
Developing the skills required to become a technical writer is a great investment in your future. So, this article explains what technical writing means and what skills are required for technical writers.