The True Purpose of Technical Writing

Post by Kara Latz
Originally published May 24, 2022, updated May 31, 2022
The True Purpose of Technical Writing

In order to understand the purpose behind technical writing, go back in time and reflect on the teachings of your high school English class. If you will recall, technical writing belongs to the type of writing categorized as “informative.”

It is different from “creative writing” in that it is entirely factual and opinion-free. In contrast to “persuasive writing,” the author of a technical writing piece is not trying to appeal to the reader’s reason. Instead, a technical writer’s job is to educate and inform. Their stance is utilitarian and reflects an absence of emotion. 

In short, the purpose of technical writing is to break down complex ideas and information into easy-to-understand tasks or explanations for the reader. It's straightforward and clearly informs the reader on a topic (no matter their current knowledge level or if they're a non-technical audience). 

What is technical writing?

This style of writing covers any type of text that aims to explain detailed, technical content. You may be surprised to learn of some of the documents that are categorized as technical writing. In IT, there are datasheets and troubleshooting documentation. In the medical realm, there are value dossiers and safety updates. In aviation, there is technical documentation for civil and military for the needs of operations and maintenance. 

technical-writer-thinking-about-writing-document

Write any technical document and get instructor feedback and one-on-one coaching on your actual writing.

Our Technical Report Writing Course has been offered at Shell, Liberty Mutual, Lincoln Financial, and many other organizations.

Download the Course Outline

A technical writer is defined as one who writes, “about a particular subject that requires direction, instruction, or explanation.” When put that way, is it no wonder that almost every company spanning an array of industries is on the hunt for technical writers? This is great news for those who hold the title of technical writer and sobering news for those looking to ramp up their product marketing efforts. The demand is high and the supply of talent is low.

A ‘Technical Writer’ is also known as a Technical Communicator, Information Developer, Technical Content Writer, and/or Technical Documentation Specialist. Defining the role of the ‘technical writer’ brings with it an ambiguity, but know that technical writing can be found in many places. You may confront it while waiting at the doctor’s office and certainly in your home if you save the “how-to” manuals of your favorite household items. 

What is the skill set of a technical writer?

The technical writing arena is comprised of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). SMEs hail from an assortment of technical or scientific industries. These include but are not limited to Robotics, Finance, Consumer Electronics, Chemistry, Computer Hardware/Software, Engineering, Medical, Forestry, and Biotechnology.

Some technical writers do not start out as experts in these fields. They may have an aptitude for learning complex subject matter and a way of breaking down hard-to-understand concepts into comprehensible formats. The sole purpose of technical writing is to inform the reader so a strong understanding of the target audience is essential.

A technical writer must possess these capabilities:

  • Strong Communication Skills
  • Excellent Writing Skills
  • Editing Skills
  • Technical Knowledge
  • Research Abilities
  • Team Focus
  • Design Insight

Note that a technical writer does not need to be a master in design. There is typically a graphic designer on hand that handles the creative elements. It is helpful, however, to be able to visualize how the document will be laid out in the conceptual form.

Also, worth pointing out and which is sometimes surprising is the need for a technical writer to work as a team. There is a great deal of collaboration that goes into technical writing. Many experts and stakeholders have a vested interest in the end product, and it’s essential to include feedback from all team members.

Finding technical writers from within

Good technical writers are hard to find, and the reason is obvious, i.e., lack of expertise in the subject matter. The good news is that there is an easy solution. Innovative companies are looking within their own departments and transforming SMEs into technical writers, at least on a part-time basis.

As mentioned previously, technical writing is a team effort. It requires the collaboration of multiple employees, who may each wear a different hat in the company. The perspective of an entire unit is the norm and essential to the compilation of an exemplary technical document.

The unique perspectives of product marketing, communications, research, and other groups may be necessary for the creation of a single piece. And as with all company documents, the final review lies with the legal department for a technical document.

A wide range of industries call for technical writers

Technical writing is not confined to a technical field. Any company that is driven to instruct its prospects and consumers call for the services of a technical writer.

Consider this recent article that highlights the highest-paying companies for technical writers. Walmart, Google, and Amazon are hiring in the six figures for top talent. There are a large number of documents that fall in the category of technical writing for a variety of industries.

These call for professionals from all different kinds of educational and work experiences to create a strong technical document that meets the needs of the target audience. A wide range of document types include:

  • Annual Report
  • User Manuals/Instruction Manual
  • API Documentation
  • SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures)
  • Research Papers
  • Presentations
  • Instructions
  • Case Studies
  • White Papers
  • Process/Machine Descriptions
  • Medical/Scientific Papers
  • Lab Reports

Also contributing to the popularity of the profession is the uptick in and emphasis on STEM programs over the past decade. The focus on STEM has increased exponentially in recent years and is prevalent all over the US and abroad. Recognize that the finetuning of writing skills is not reserved for those with a liberal arts degree. Higher education programs in STEM recognize the importance of communication in these fields.

writing-working-on-laptop-computer

Learn how to write any technical document well in our online self-paced course.

Our technical writing courses are available for individuals and groups.

Download the Course Outline

Final thoughts ...

Upon learning more about the purpose of technical writing, you now understand that it is a unique blend of art and science. Due to its expansiveness, companies may need to provide training to sharpen and polish the writing skills of those who are not purported “writers” but have the industry, product, or technical knowledge.

This is a wonderful opportunity for companies who aim to level up the skills of their employees. 

It’s exciting for professionals who wish to strengthen their dexterity in communications. 

To find out more about leveraging the extensive knowledge that your current employees hold to create technical documents, contact Instructional Solutions. We provide standard and tailored programs to best meet your company’s needs for technical communication. Your team will learn a technical writing process and style of writing to strengthen technical writing skills. 

 

Post by Kara Latz
Originally published May 24, 2022, updated May 31, 2022

Group-Choose-Course-CTA-blue (1)

Indv-Choose-Course-CTA (1)