Career & Business

The Beginner Guide to Becoming a Skilled Technical Writer

The Beginner Guide to Becoming a Skilled Technical WriterThe Beginner Guide to Becoming a Skilled Technical Writer

How to Quickly Learn the Profession of a Technical Writer and Start Making Money in 2021?

Summary

  • The growth of the technical writing industry is expected to grow 12% by 2030.
  • The US Department of Labor states that the average salary for a technical writer in the US a few years ago was $ 69,850, or $ 33.58 an hour.
  • A lot of professions require strong technical writing nowadays, such as IT, engineering, medical business, consulting, financial services, energy, manufacturing etc.
  • Technical writing is all about documenting and explaining technical problems. It often has to do with technology and computing, but companies of all kinds rely on technical writing.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing good technical documentation. However, various factors apply to all technical documents, including intended audience, subject matter, writing style, and document design.

Table of Content

  • Breaking Into Profession of Technical Writing
  • What is Technical Writing Today?
  • The Role of a Technical Writer
  • How Do Technical Writers Build Their Workflow?
  • Final Thoughts

Breaking Into Profession of Technical Writing

Technical writing is a very valuable skill. This is very important for anyone in the tech industry, engineers and scientists who share their knowledge, and people looking for paid full-time jobs as writers.

Technical writing is about understanding technical information and writing it down in a document. Technical writing takes high-level information and turns it into digestible content for a specific audience.

So, what does a technical writer include, and how can you become a technical writer?

This article will describe and define the technical writing process, best practices, and steps to help you start your technical writing career.

What is Technical Writing Today?

This writing style encompasses any text that aims to explain detailed information. A technical writer communicates in such a way as to present information so that the reader can use it for the intended purpose.

It is a form of communication that shows that it has the following characteristics:

  • Communication on technical or specialized topics such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.
  • Communication using technologies such as web pages, help files, or social networking sites.
  • Providing instructions on how to do something, no matter how technical the task is or even whether technology is being used to create or distribute that message.

This type of writing has a neutral, clear and direct style. The copy should present information in the most accessible way for users.

The Role of a Technical Writer

Technical documentation is always used when complex information needs to be conveyed in the text. The text will explain scientific or specialized details and tell the reader how to use this information. Due to the high tech nature of jobs and daily life, technical writing is becoming more common.

Benefits

Technical writers have a huge advantage in becoming lifelong learners. To convey content, you should be well versed in this area. Thus, with each new technical document, you become an expert in this matter.

While users may not know all the details, you need to have in-depth knowledge to select only the most important elements to include. A broad understanding ensures that the text is accurate and conveys the information it needs most effectively.

Growing demand

The growth of this industry is expected to grow 12 percent from 2020 to 2030. Employment growth will exceed the national average for other professions due to the continued growth of scientific and technical production.

Outstanding areas

A lot of professions require strong technical writing nowadays, such as IT, engineering, medical business, consulting, financial services, energy, manufacturing etc.

Technical writing is not limited to these fields. In the information age, the ability to give clear instructions or information to target audiences is crucial, so technical writers work in various other spheres.

How Do Technical Writers Build Their Workflow?

The technical writing process can take as much planning and review time as writing. The planning stage sets you up for success and makes your writing time more efficient. The validation phase is essential to ensure that your document is technically accurate and accessible to your audience.

Before you start, there are important preparatory stage that will define your document. If you start your paper and then try to edit your way into a usable technical document, you will only cause a headache. Start with smart preparation.

Use the following technical writing process to better structure your work.

1. Project preparation

The project planning process starts with the request for a technical document. This step can be initiated by an employer or client and defines the initial requirements: document type, subject area, purpose, scope, and audience.

At first, not all of these important aspects can be clearly identified. Sometimes your client may not even be sure of their requirements. So, the first conversation is inevitable for making sure you understand the project. With correct questions, you can get this information so that the project is clear and well planned from the beginning.

2. Analysis of the audience.

After initially planning a project with a client, the biggest factor is readers.

The target audience is always at the forefront of the mind of a technical writer. The reader defines the text. Generally, the technical information doesn’t change. What changes is how these facts are communicated. A good writer corrects text based on the reader.

3. Understand the user

To understand your audience, you need to gather as much information about users as possible. It’s essential to know whether your audience has experience in a given area or this topic is entirely new to them.

The audience will also have their expectations and needs. You should define what the reader is looking for when reading the article. The reader’s goal will guide your writing process as the document necessarily meets their needs and answers their questions.

Suppose you’re writing a financial proposal for a pilot R&D program to control home heating from a smartphone remotely. In that case, your audience might be the executive setting the company’s budget for next year. To prepare a technical proposal, you need to know the leader’s research area. In addition, it would be helpful to understand their underlying financial problems, the business factors that are commonly used in decision making, and the timing.

This executive audience is entirely different from the end-user of a remotely controlled home heating program. Perhaps R&D is releasing new software for remotely controlling home heating from smartphones. In this case, the audience reads the software user’s guide. As a writer, you need to understand that the average, unfamiliar software user is aware of using their smartphone and home heating system. So, you need to know their starting questions, possible problems, and the most effective solutions to write a helpful document.

These examples contain the same technical information, have two very different audiences, and create two other documents.

To understand your reader, before preparing your document, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are they?
  • What do they want?
  • Where will they read?
  • When will they read?
  • Why will they read?
  • How will they read?

After you get all the answers, you can start preparing the document.

4. User experience

After you get to know your audience and their needs, remember how the document meets their needs. For example, experts may tend to draft a manuscript that demonstrates the depth of their knowledge and prepare it in a way that is attractive to their colleagues. So, it’s a simple mistake to ignore how the real reader will use the document.

As you prepare, constantly step back and treat the document like a reader. Ask yourself:

  • Is it available?
  • How would they use it?
  • When will they use it?
  • Is it easy to navigate?

Always write a document that will be useful to the user.

Planning your document

The technical information is complex, and there are many factors to consider. Still, you will include not all of them in the final product. So, while there are different ways to handle all of this information, we recommend designing it as a mind map.

With a mind map, you can include a wide range of information, highlight relationships, and get an overview before you start working.

FreeMind is a handy free tool for creating your mind map. However, whatever tool you use, make sure it’s easy to use. The goal is to quickly record your brainstorming session to avoid getting bogged down in attractive yet cumbersome features.

This step will also highlight areas that you’re unfamiliar with and require further study. Highlight all the subject areas you need to study before writing.

Consultation with specialists

No technical writer knows all the technical details, so expert advice is critical.

They will provide additional information to make your document more beneficial to the reader. These could be peers, customer contacts, or external experts with authority on your topic.

Interact with subject matter experts early in the process. Keep in touch throughout the entire process because they can add value at different stages, especially during the checkout.

Preparation of documents

Once you’ve prepared the smartcard, it’s important to select the correct type of technical document. Perhaps your client has already specified the desired style, or it may be evident. However, it’s worth backing off and confirming the document type at this stage. There is a wide variety of species. Below is a list of the main ones:

1. Technical reports

Technical reports aim to provide information, analysis, instructions and recommendations. They give the reader enough information on a topic to be informed and potentially make decisions.

2. Technical manuals

They provide instructions on how to use a program or device. The reader is the user and sometimes the developer of the product.

3. Email

Emails are a short form of communication that depends on the purpose. Typically, they intend to share information with potential additional uses for persuasion or edification.

4. Technical proposals

The technical proposals are an introduction to a new project. It describes the goal, planned milestones or objectives, methods, expected results and benefits, and budget.

If accepted, the proposal acts as a draft and does not have to have a budget, as it may offer free changes.

5. Specifications

It’s a detailed description of the standards of a product, processes, structure, materials, design, etc., with a level of detail that allows the outside to produce it.

6. Tables of technical characteristics

Technical Specification Data Sheets provide specifications at a level of detail that allows an outside party to incorporate them into another system.

7. Manuals and reference books

Guides and References are links or sets of instructions in an easily accessible form.

8. Standard operating procedure.

An SOP is a step-by-step instruction, usually for employees, to complete routine processes. It aims to improve the consistency, quality and repeatability of operations.

Considering the right style

You can finally start writing! This thoughtful planning process will make your writing more accessible and efficient.

While the content will now be explicit, you need to ensure the writing style is appropriate for the technical document. The document should be accessible, direct and professional. Floral or emotional text is discouraged in a white paper. To make your copy consistent with this style, include the following key specifications in your text:

Active voice
An active voice is easier to read and understand than a passive voice. Whenever possible, choose an active voice in sentences.

The precise choice of words
Choose your words carefully and use the best ones for context. Include the necessary details to make the text clear and precise. Avoid using pronouns such as “this” and “it” as it can be difficult for the reader to define the antecedent.

Task-based approach
Many white papers contain instructions for the reader. Hence, a task-based approach makes the content easier to understand. When writing, keep in mind the order of the steps in the process. This flow provides natural guidance for your writing.

Sentence structure
Always put essential information in the main sentence. The reader will better understand the priority details.

Be brief

Combine sentences or remove unnecessary words in sentences to keep the text as concise as possible. The technical text should be clear and straightforward, so there is no need to add colour or complexity.

Avoid jargon
It’s a real trap for any technical writer. If you’re experienced, you can easily use the jargon familiar to your topic or office without realizing that. Still, it can confuse other readers. A non-expert may use jargon as a malicious attempt to reach out to experts. So, it should be avoided or used when appropriate for a specific audience.

When using unfamiliar or technical terms, identify the term when first used in the text. For example, when using abbreviations, write out the entire term, then write the abbreviation in parentheses when you first use it. These definitions serve as guidelines for the unfamiliar reader in the text.

Use simple language

The simple language has its own set of international guidelines. The main takeaway is to write so that any reader can understand the text.
Using fewer words or simpler word variations will convey the same meaning to your reader while being more understandable.

Visual formatting

Although a white paper is based on the text, the visual presentation shouldn’t be overlooked. The wall of text is difficult to read. Even the most explicit instructions can be lost in a document with poor visual presentation.
Smart formatting, templates, and images will make your text valuable to your audience.

Clarity of formatting

The technical document style is carried over to the formatting stage. Formatting should be clean and professional. Correctly selected, readable fonts, sizes and layout will help the reader understand the text. Larger documents should consider the table of contents, sections, and annexes to structure the information better.

Templates

Many businesses and individual technical writers rely on templates for technical documents. They should be designed for clarity and with an audience in mind.

Once developed, templates save time and provide an approved style guide. For repetitive projects, it can be helpful to design a template (or ask if your client has one).

Appropriate graphics

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” This phrase is accurate even in technical writing. Still, not every image is worthy of a technical document.

Documents can be difficult to convey in text alone. A correctly positioned image or diagram can help explain the information. The image should be relevant and referenced in the text and the explanatory caption.

You should never use images used for decorative purposes in a technical document because they are distracting and don’t hold up to a clear neutral style.

Review carefully

Good writing of any type should be free of spelling and grammatical errors. That’s obvious but not always easy, especially with long documents.

Don’t worry – several software tools can help you with grammar review.

You can use tools like Microsoft Word Spelling and Grammar with Readability Measurement and Grammarly.

We recommend running your text through both programs to double-check it for grammar.

Technical overview

Once the text is linguistically correct, you will need to ensure it’s also technically correct. Now, stop editing and come back to your document from the point of view of the target audience. For example, if your document is a user manual, follow the instructions for using the product. If your document represents a new business proposal, read it like a customer with their priorities in mind.

Review cycle

After completing your review, the document should be checked by others. The reviewer can be a colleague, supervisor, or subject matter expert.

The standard process follows the first draft, revised draft, and final draft/version. Each review will refine and improve the paper. Therefore, a longer or more critical document will require additional rounds of review.

This process is also essential to you as a technical writer. External feedback will improve the current text and your writing in the future.

Good writing is a process. Revisions, corrections and revisions shouldn’t be an afterthought but should be carefully incorporated into your technical writing work.

  • Start Your Tech Writing Journey
  • Build your portfolio
  • Refine your resume

A CV is also a technical document and there is no better option to start applying your technical writing skills. So, follow the guidelines for technical writing style and highlight your career and accomplishments.

Career advice

Looking for a degree in technical writing?
Your hands-on experience and a written portfolio will be just as helpful for getting a job or impressing employers. So, just start practising.

Don’t wait for your first technical writing assignment to build your portfolio. Instead, practice this style by creating new documents for existing programs or projects.

Each of these documents will make a great addition to your technical writer portfolio.

Know your strengths

As this area grows, more and more information emerges about its potential income. So, when scheduling freelance contracts or annual reviews, it’s vital to understand the value of your job.

The US Department of Labor states that the average salary for a technical writer in the US a few years ago was $ 69,850, or $ 33.58 an hour.

Focus on your niche

Most technical writers choose focus areas for their work. The more accurately you define your niche, the clearer your ideal client or employer will be.

Choosing an industry is an essential first step in your career. Technical documents in finance are very different from those in pharmaceuticals or tourism. It’s possible to write for multiple industries, but you will be most effective when choosing an area that suits your interests and experience.

Freelance or full-time employee

Technical writers can be either freelance freelancers or full-time employees.

As a freelance writer, you can choose your clients and topics. In addition, they’re responsible for their business and working hours. With the growing demand for such specialists and online freelance platforms, many contracts are available for both new and experienced freelancers.

Staff members transfer their skills to one company, either as a full-time technical writers or technical staff with writing responsibilities. Full-time writers work in the company to develop a set of required documents. Businesses generally prefer full-time employees to have technical writing skills because they often know the technical details better than anyone else.

There is a tremendous advantage for technical staff like engineers and analysts if they add technical text to their skills. Communication is a problem for many companies. It isn’t easy to make optimal business decisions without clear communication with people. An employee who can bridge the gap between technical and business will be of great value to most companies.

Where to look for work

You can search for remote writing jobs on various job boards as freelancers. The most popular are:

  • LinkedIn
  • Upwork
  • Remoteok.io

As a full-time employee, discuss your interest with your supervisor and offer your writing skills during project planning meetings.

Continuing education

Tech writers are always learning. A good writer never stops honing his craft by diving into new subject areas and getting external feedback.
There are many courses available for additional education.

Join a professional association

Professional associations signal competence levels and offer a wide range of professional development and networking opportunities. Currently, the largest association of technical writers is the Society for Technical Communication, and the level of paid membership depends on years of experience in technical writing.

Final thoughts

Technical writing is a valuable and profitable skill. This is a practical guide, whether you are looking for a career change or add new skills to your current position.

Keep in mind that any employee who can convey technical information at work is of great value to the company. Technical writing skills are real career advancements.

To learn how to write, follow this tutorial to get started planning, writing, and analyzing. Becoming a professional technical writer is not an instant process but a rewarding investment in your communication skills and career.

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