Immersed in the areas of science
and technology, tech writing ranges from promotional materials on a new drug
to instructions on how to use a computer program—and just about everything in
between. The primary goal of tech writers is to make information accessible
to various readers, some of whom may be highly familiar with the subject,
while others have no knowledge of it.
To communicate information successfully, tech
writers need a variety of skills. These include being able to write clearly
and effectively, as well as having a strong awareness of audience. A tech
writer may write specifications for the production team (a highly technical
audience) and transform that same information into a brochure for customers
(a lay audience).
Two questions are at the heart of tech
- Who are the readers?
- How will they use the document?
Once tech writers knows their audience and
purpose, they can start gathering information to write a successful document.
More often than not, gathering
information means collaborating. A tech writer might work in a group with
other tech writers, meet regularly with the engineering department, and
confer with the production team. Strong interpersonal skills follow closely
behind writing skills. In fact, tech writers can't have one without the other
because they depend on the knowledge and expertise of their co-workers.
Beyond writing and collaborating, tech writers
need the computer skills to meet the demands of their job. Some companies
that hire tech writers require expertise far beyond Microsoft Office.
A quick look at tech writing job postings
shows a need for experience in programs like MadCap Flare (to create online
help), Visio (to create diagrams, flowcharts, and other visuals), and
InDesign (to design documents). Tech writers may even need to know
programming languages, like HTML and XML.
But, don’t get too distressed if you lack
these more sophisticated skills. There are opportunities for tech writers
that involve less complex programs. For example, I worked as an assistant
editor on a print magazine for mechanical engineers and an online magazine
for design engineers, and I did all of my work in Microsoft Word. The company
had a production department that handled the content. And remember that if
you are really interested in learning a new program, you can always sign up
for a class.
Lastly, tech writers writers, of course, need
to be knowledgeable about the product or service that they are writing about.
For some, this may mean that they are hired because they already possess that
background knowledge, like having a bachelor’s degree in electronics or
computer science. But, others learn on the job, like what happened with me
when I worked on the engineering magazines. Again, this really depends on the
company and the career path that you want to take.