What Computer Science Teams Should Know About Technical Writing

Katie Almeida Spencer
Post by Katie Almeida Spencer
Originally published June 28, 2022, updated June 28, 2022
What Computer Science Teams Should Know About Technical Writing

Technical writing is a broad and varied category used by many different fields and teams, including computer science teams. There are two major similarities technical writers (aspiring or present) should keep in mind: demand for technical writers is expected to grow quickly, and technical writers are writing for a wide audience with varying degrees of technical knowledge, so the content and writing needs to be clear and direct.

This can be hard for computer science teams because they have such deep and nuanced content knowledge that is not widely known by the general public. 

Technical writing in computer science has some specific distinctions that make it unique. Let’s look at those now. 

What is computer science technical writing?

Technical writing is simply any writing that conveys technical content. This is often in the form of specifications, instructions, procedures, or policies. Technical communication in computer science can come in any of those forms, and the content will (obviously) be about computer science topics.

Developer and software teams also use technical writing throughout the life of a product, whether to describe the development, use, or upgrade of a product. API (Application Programming Interface) documentation is also a big part of technical writing for computer science teams because it informs teams how to connect and route different interfaces. 

Any type of computer science documentation is highly technical and requires critical thinking skills as well as knowledge of programming languages and scientific and technical products. On top of this, you’ll need to hone clear, direct, and effective professional writing skills. 

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What technical documents do computer science teams write?

There are many types of technical writing documents, and then there are some specific to the computer science technical field. Software developers, software engineers, and computer science professionals at all levels will work on different forms of these documents, and doing them well can make you a major asset to your company.

Examples of writing in the computer science realm include:

  1. Product documentation, such as user documentation in the form of user guides, tutorials, manuals, quick start guides, troubleshooting guides, and even frequently asked questions. These items all provide technical content showing how to use a product, software, or hardware. API documentation would also fall under this category. 
  2. System documentation, such as documents that describe the parts and processes of a system. These can include product requirement documentation, design documentation, source code documentation, and maintenance guides. 
  3. Process documentation, which (again obviously) describes a process for developing and maintaining a product. These can include standards, test metrics and schedules, and project plans. Software development requires this documentation. 

Why technical writing helps developers

Good technical writing saves time, energy, and money because processes and information are clear. Technical documentation also records information and requirements throughout a process, thereby serving as a guide and rulebook for all project stakeholders. 

What’s more, technical communication in computer science transfers knowledge to future developers and new users. This can help build product and brand loyalty, as well as long-term employee efficiency and effectiveness. 

When done well (i.e. with clear, direct, and accessible language), technical writing can help computer science professionals advance in their careers. Everything in computer science work becomes easier and more efficient with strong technical writing skills. 

Get started with technical writing in computer science

Since computer science professionals already have deep content knowledge, they should start by building their technical writing skills. Here are some ideas:

  1. Look at some strong technical writing examples.

  2. Spend some time looking at the technical documentation put out by your company. What kind of documentation is it? Who is the audience for each document and what is their knowledge level? This process is going to get you out of your own head (which is full of content knowledge) and into the mind of your potentially very varied readers.

  3. Look into the style manuals or writing conventions of your company. Do they use another style manual or have their own? Is there a set of writing rules? This process is going to help you start thinking about technical writing in a way that fits your company. 

  4. Review our blog post, How to Become a Technical Writer: A Beginner’s Guide.

  5. Take a technical writing class to hone your skills. This will help you in any business writing that you do, but will specifically benefit your technical writing skills. Our keystone technical writing course, Technical Writing Foundations, is a fantastic place to start. Educational outcomes include a strong writing process to follow. 

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So what should computer science teams know about technical writing? In short, they should know that a good technical form of communication is precise, clear, and direct. They should know that effective technical writing requires them to get out of their own heads and into the mind of the reader. They should also know that building their technical writing skills will make them an asset to their company and help them advance in their careers regardless of their professional level. 

 

Katie Almeida Spencer
Post by Katie Almeida Spencer
Originally published June 28, 2022, updated June 28, 2022
Katie is an experienced Business Writing and English as a Second Language instructor, business writing coach, and teacher trainer. She taught Business and Academic Writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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