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What does a Technical Writer do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A technical writer prepares clear, concisely written documentation that communicates technical information to a target audience. Some common examples of technical writing include user manuals for software, documentation guides for industrial machinery, and design or engineering specifications for construction projects. This is a very diverse field, and according to the American Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is rapidly growing.

In addition to being able to create clearly written communications, a technical writer must also be knowledgeable about the field in which he or she works. For example, one who works on documentation for medical procedures typically has an education in the medical field in addition to language skills. These writers can be found in engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, technology, and an assortment of other industries.

When a tech writer is assigned a project, he or she thoroughly researches the subject material. In the case of a how-to manual that explains how to use something, the writer may thoroughly explore the object so that he or she understands how it works. After carrying out extensive research, he or she will create a document that communicates information in clear, useful terms. This document is typically tailored to the audience; software documentation, for example, tends to be very clear and simple so that inexperienced users can easily follow it. On the other hand, documentation for a specialized laser used in physics experiments may be less simplified, because it assumes that the laser's users already have knowledge in the field.

After writing a document, most technical writers submit it for editing, either to peers or to people who specialize in technical editing. The editor checks for basic spelling and grammar errors, and also confirms that the document is detailed and clear enough for the audience that it will be marketed to. After a writer's work is approved, it can be published in the appropriate venue, whether it be a user's manual packed with a piece of equipment, an online help site, or a trade journal.

To become a tech writer, someone must possess very strong written communication skills, and a passion for teaching people will certainly help. Someone who wants to do general technical writing may be able to get by without a specialized education, but education and experience are musts for some fields.

There are a wide variety of work environments for technical writers and editors, ranging from solitary self-employment to teams that work for specific companies. In all cases, a sense of teamwork and an ability to accept criticism are two useful traits that can strengthen a writer's abilities and desirability to employers.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Nitwit — On Apr 11, 2012

I'm currently a technical recruiter, and have been for about six years now and I want to switch my profession to technical writer. Any suggestions, anyone?

By anon141734 — On Jan 11, 2011

I read somewhere that a technical writer doesn't have to be a subject matter expert. Is it true? I am interested in making reports/documents on various topics in the field of Science and Engineering and taking them to the public (something similar to what the Discovery channel does). Could you please guide me on this? ~Alhad

By JoseJames — On Oct 06, 2010

My suggestions for anyone interested in getting in to the field of technical writing is to heavily research the industry that you are going to be writing for. Just as ronburg44 said in his comment, the more you are familiar with the industry the more you will be able to contribute, comprehend and analyze the writing you will be completing for organizations in the field.

When I first started writing for the computer industry I was mostly just had experience in general types of writing but it my technical knowledge and know-how significantly increased as the time went by and I wrote more articles.

There will always be issues in technical writing that arise as challenges to the knowledge you have and the expertise but the best way to handle that situation is to consult professionals in that specific field of study. When in doubt, find a source.

These tips should be helpful in your pursuit as a technical writer. And of all the things that technical writers do, please make sure you get the facts strait.

By ronburg44 — On Oct 06, 2010

Many writers believe that they have the know-how or capability to effectively write for technical journals or documents. The sad truth is that to be a technical writer usually means that you are highly specialized the field in which you are writing about.

This greatly limits the ability for general purpose writers to switch fields of technical writing very easily.

Generally people who write for a specific industry will have a writing background in addition to direct or related experience in the field that the industry encompasses.

It is possible for a writer to research and study enough to write technical documents in a field where they have no previous experience but in that case they will want to seek inside the industry advice to make sure common terms are used appropriately and in the correct context.

By Burlap — On Oct 06, 2010

The best type of technical writing is the sort that you can understand the intention of the sentence upon the first time reading it.

I truly loathe bringing home a new gadget, contraption or other product that requires assembly only to find vague and poorly written instructions on how to complete the construction of the project.

The best technical writer will have the readers attention the entire way through the process and can predict and guide the builder through any sort of technical difficulties that will be faced in the works.

Other benefits to having an excellent technical writer create your instructions are the ease of use that your brand name will develop as a result. If consumers can trust that your device will come with instructions that without a doubt will get the job done, they are a lot more likely to purchase it.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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