How is Technical Writing Used Today?

Post by Kara Latz
Originally published March 24, 2022, updated March 24, 2022
How is Technical Writing Used Today?
Most of us are technical writers.

People don’t realize that every one of us is a technical writer in our own right. We may not do it every day, and we most probably don’t get paid for it, but it is likely that we have crafted our own technical documents from time to time. 

Have you ever put together a list of instructions for the babysitter? Plotted a diagram for a construction worker on how to get something done on your property? Maybe you crafted an email for your boss or colleague on how to carry out a few tasks while you were on vacation?

In all of these scenarios, your intent was to provide easy-to-understand “how-to” information. You did not aim to influence or entertain your audience. Your only motivation was that they fully comprehend what you wrote down, and carry out your instructions to a “t.” If you were to be paid based on success rate, you would be awarded for the comprehensibility of your communications. In a nutshell, this answers the question about how technical writing is used.

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Three very distinct areas where technical writing is used

Technical documentation or technical content really is a broad base of writing. There are three distinct classifications of technical communication:

End-user documentation

This includes a wide range of documents and is centered on the end-users of a given product or service. Its purpose is to show users how to effectively set up, use, and/or diagnose problems or issues. Think of an instruction manual. 

Traditional technical writing

To be defined as any material that is produced for the likes of a largely technical audience. “Technical” here is interpreted as a person who has know-how in a technical area, i.e., business, politics, engineering, medicine, computers, finance, etc.

Technical marketing communications

This pertains to any marketing medium that focuses on the key features and specs of a product. It is geared to customers who have a base-level understanding of the technological make-up of the product. 

The table below summarizes everything you need to know about why and how technical writing is used for technical documentation:

Classification of Writing
Audience
Technical Writing Examples

End-user documentation

General

  • User manuals/user guides
  • Handbooks
  • Troubleshooting guides

Traditional technical writing

Technical

  • Repair manuals for appliances
  • White papers
  • Programmer guides
  • Medical research papers
  • Engineering specs
  • Medical procedures
  • Product specifications
  • Technical reports

Technical marketing communications

Customers with an elemental understanding of the product technology

  • Magazine ads
  • Website content
  • TV commercials
  • Videos
  • ebooks/printed books

 

Learn more about types of writing for technical writing here.

 

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It’s your target audience that matters 

As with any marketing collateral or writing piece, the success of the output is measured by how well it resonates with the reader. All good writers must be intimately acquainted with the mindset of their target audience and what they hope to glean from reading your technical document.

In technical writing, the audience may fall into one or more of these groups: 

Experts

As the title denotes, this group has deep knowledge of the subject matter, product, or service, however, they need to know more. They are looking for info about a special topic. 

A good example is a doctor who reads a medical research paper to learn about a new type of cancer treatment.

Technicians

These are the builders of the product. They are tasked with constructing or operating the product at hand. Technicians are viewed as the experts in their industries. They just need to know the details of how to construct or operate this particular product or device. 

The audience here may include a computer programmer or HVAC technician who is relying on a programming guide or repair manual to carry out their jobs.

Executives

This group handles the decision-making. Executives rely on the technical docs for the lowdown, so they can move forward with a smart decision. They are often the funders of the product or program and need to remain current with key information. 

Corporate content may include stakeholder reports, business pitches, and proposals.

Non-specialists

This cohort may be the easiest to define. These are the laypeople and end-users. We have all been made privy to tech documentation in this category. It can range from marketing communications like websites and ads to product user manuals and handbooks. Because this audience is comprised of non-experts, it’s important for technical writers to keep their language basic. 

Many writers use what’s known as a readability tool. This helps to make sure that their vocabulary and sentence structure are simplified and understood by general audiences. It also helps you check your passive voice score to ensure you’re using active voice enough (active voice is typically most appropriate for a technical style of writing). 

Related: When Should Passive Voice Be Used In Business Writing?

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Could this be you or your department?

We all have technical expertise in one area or another. Now that we have an understanding of how technical writing is used, some of us may also have the writing prowess to become technical writers and create technical content on a daily basis. 

Celebrity journalists, Kara Swisher of Recode or David Pogue of Yahoo Tech, have been writing about the tech industry for years. They have succeeded in establishing a presence on social media and are not only widely viewed by the traditional reader-base but a much wider audience as well. In a nutshell, these people are relied upon by many for their reporting. 

Know that technical writing is not confined to the subject of technology. There are many industries that are in need of good technical writers and strong technical documents. Common types include:

  • Heavy machinery
  • Automotive/manufacturing
  • Medical and healthcare
  • Education
  • Consumer electronics
  • Aerospace
  • Defense

Many companies don’t realize that the best candidates for technical writing are to be found within their employee base. If you are a person who cares about sharing the facts about their area of expertise, then technical writing may be the perfect extension to your current job. 

Become a technical writer

Being inquisitive is the first sign of a good technical writer, and you're in the right place. We offer Technical Writing Courses to help you become a strong technical writer and hone those specific communication skills. You'll receive feedback from our instructors on technical writing assignments to help you perfect this writing style. Learn more about our course options.

 

Post by Kara Latz
Originally published March 24, 2022, updated March 24, 2022

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