About Tech Writing

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 writing:

  • 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.