What is Technical Writing?

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Technical WritingTechnical writing is the art of simplifying the complex—efficiently communicating complex information to an audience that needs to quickly learn or accomplish something.

That manual that came with your computer—that’s technical writing.

The content that pops up when you click the Help button in your software program—that’s technical writing.

The user guide in the glove box of your car—that’s technical writing.

Do you want these documents to be long and verbose? No. You need them to be short and to the point because you’re trying to quickly get the exact information you need right that second. If it takes you too long to find it, that document has failed to do its job.

That’s why, for technical documentation to be successful, it needs to be complete, clear, and concise. A good technical writer knows the difference between content that’s essential and content that’s just fluff – noise that interferes with the message the document is trying to convey.

In essense, a technical writer’s job is to ensure the content is clear so that the reader

  • Knows exactly what action to take
  • Has all essential information and nothing that’s irrelevant
  • Can follow it correctly and quickly (a narrative takes much longer to read)
  • Can understand the topic regardless of his or her knowledge or experience level

As Professor William Strunk, Jr. (1869-1946, The Elements of Style 1918) said, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” In technical communication, this is essential.

With this writing expertise, technical writers strive to be advocates for the reader. And in doing so, they work and collaborate with engineers, software designers, product experts, project managers, and customer support specialists to ensure that the reader receives a thorough and accurate document. And once they’re confident that the document’s content is solid, technical writers work with editors to perfect the document’s grammar and readability, and they work with graphic artists to create visuals (such as diagrams, charts, and drawings) that define and illustrate any complex concepts contained within the document.

Types of Documents

Technical writers produce various types of documents, including

  • User and reference manuals
  • Training course materials
  • Online help systems
  • Quick start guides
  • Policy and procedure manuals
  • Web content
  • Process guides and flowcharts
  • Instructional videos and demos
  • Software release notes
  • Corporate profiles and annual reports
  • Proposals and sales collateral
  • White papers