Technical writing (often called "tech writing") is a diverse and omnipresent genre of professional writing that is usually filled with writers, essay coaches, engineers and other sorts of subject matter experts. Not known for its creativity or flair, the impact that technical communications has on the every day lives of billions of people is often misunderstood and underestimated.
What is Technical Writing?
Technical writing is just about any writing that is designed to teach, instruct, explain or communicate some type of information. This information can range from how make toast to how to build a nuclear reactor, and after marketing it is probably the most widespread form of written communication in existence. From recipes and user manuals to bus schedules and business forms, just about everyone uses some form of technical documentation every single day.
Unlike fiction writing, the purpose of technical writing is to clearly and concisely relay information to a user in such a way that it is easy to understand and follow. The most important role of technical documentation is to be of service to the reader, and any documentation that does not help the reader understand what he or she is supposed to do is, in essence, a failed document.
Although good technical writing does take a degree of creativity, the majority of technical writing is marked by a professional (if bland) tone, and is intended to assume a voice of authority and expertise. This tone can become much more informal for particular brands and product types, however, especially if written for a younger, less formal audience (like video game users).
What Do Technical Writers Do?
Although technical communications specialists are used in fields as diverse as manufacturing, engineering, chemistry, hardware and software development, finance, biotechnology, health industries and much more, in general, technical writers are responsible for the same general duties regardless of industry. These duties include:
- Gathering information from existing documentation, first-hand use and subject matter experts on a particular topic.
- Analyzing subject matter and audience needs to plan and produce clear, concise and comprehensive product and/or process documentation.
- Ensuring documentation is factually, grammatically and graphically accurate.
- Ensuring that documentation is easy to use and understand.
- Ensuring that documentation is organized in a logical, structured manner.
- Ensuring that documentation meets all in-house and external standardization guidelines.
In general, technical communicators need to have strong research, critical thinking, writing, language and technical skills, and they should have a solid understanding of how people learn and use information. In addition, technical writers who find themselves in high demand often have advanced illustration, information design, information architecture and specialized technical knowledge.
What Does Tech Writing Look Like?
Since technical writing is (technically) just about any writing that's sole purpose is to inform, technical writing can take the form of just about anything. Common sorts of technical documentation include user manuals, training guides, blueprints, text books, diagrams, flowcharts, recipes, schedules, help manuals, online help, white papers, tutorials, how-to instructions, bank forms, office paperwork, donation forms and much, much more. In fact, there probably isn't a single industry that doesn't use technical documentation at some level, either for internal or external clients.
Because effective technical writing is reader-focused, depending on the needs of the target audience, technical documentation can range from highly complex to surprisingly simple, and it can be as short or as long as is necessary to accurately and completely achieve its objective.