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12 Tips To Become The Perfect Technical Writer

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The last decade has witnessed a paradigm shift in the way technical writers are dealt with in the software industry. There is a clear recognition of the fact that writers should play an integral role in projects.

It’s no secret that a well-documented project is likely to be better received by the target audience. End users appreciate the fact that a product comes with easy-to-read documentation that covers topics such as FAQs, How-tos and Trouble-shooting solutions.

Unfortunately, companies have different yardsticks while working with technical writers. While some companies involve writers from a project’s beginning stages, others don’t include them till the project is almost over. This impacts a technical writer’s ability to comprehend a product’s capabilities. He will have to spend a significant amount of time interacting with each member of the development team to know the finer details of the product.

Stepping into a technical writer’s shoes

A technical writer’s job isn’t easy. He is expected to produce quality technical content for a product without having developed it himself. It’s a difficult task because the writer needs to have an excellent understanding of the following:

  • The product, its functioning and the intended target audience
  • The technical jargon that is appropriate and acceptable for the project
  • The roles played by each member in the development team to develop the product (so that queries during documentation can be swiftly addressed)

Becoming the perfect technical writer

It’s difficult to come across a person who has mastered the intricacies of technical writing in its entirety. This is because there are a lot of skills associated with becoming the perfect technical writer – and it takes a couple of years for writers to master them all!

In most scenarios, technical writing takes the reader on an easy-to-follow journey that explains a product’s functionality. User guides, manuals and other educational courses fall in this category.  A good percentage of technical writing also caters to journals, case studies and whitepapers that talk about innovation in technology.

This article will help you become a technical writer who is capable of taking on all assignments. Read through these tips to gain an expert understanding of how writers should adopt to the technical domain.

  1. Gain perfect realization of how the technical writing industry works

There have been rapid advancements in the technology world over the last couple of decades. This resulted in a hike in maturity levels of the target audience (consumers of technology). They have greater exposure and understanding of technology and its benefits.

This, in turn, has resulted in an evolution in the technical writing industry as well. Technical writing is more complex than it was before because sophisticated readers need content that is sharp and descriptive.

A technical writer should realize that there are no shortcuts to success in the industry. Hard work must be put in to create content that follows guidelines created by the company.

  1. Recognize the fact that you need a thorough understanding of the subject

A technical writer will not survive without having a thorough understanding of the subject he has to write on.

I know a writer who was asked to write about new software he had no clue about. The deadline was short and he struggled to come up with a user guide that captures the software’s potential completely. As a writer, you have the rights to request for sufficient time to understand a product in its entirety.

At times, you will have to spend a lot of effort convincing an unsympathetic manager about the importance of gaining more time to complete documentation. This will help you do complete justice to the project.

  1. Adopt a courteous attitude that helps to quickly bond with others

A technical writer has to work with the development and testing teams to understand and document complicated concepts in a user-friendly manner. The writer has to maintain cordial relationships with everybody in order to ensure he gets information in a speedy and reliable way.

Arrogant technical writers often complain that they don’t receive thorough information from the development team. A quick self-introspection will help them realize there are shortcomings in the way they interact with the development team.

  1. Be inquisitive and willing to learn

An inquisitive nature will help a technical writer immensely. It will give him the opportunity to learn more about technology, especially the project he is focusing on currently.

Combine this inquisitiveness with a positive and outgoing demeanor to get the best attitude for a technical writer.

  1. Be aware of the product so that you can ask the right questions

It’s important that technical writers ask the right questions to prepare the perfect content. The capability to ask the right questions can only be achieved by closely examining the product. The process to ask the right questions is pretty straightforward:

Step 1: Spend a couple of days understanding the product you have to write about.

Step 2: Jot down pain points that prevent you from gaining a thorough understanding of the product.

Step 3: Convert these pain points into questions that can provide you with definite answers.

Step 4: Seek team members who can clear your doubts.

  1. Don’t overestimate/underestimate target readers

Some writers think their target audience comprises intellectuals with a thorough understanding of the product. Technical content written from this perspective will turn out to be high on technicality, boring to read and difficult to comprehend.

Another group of writers think their target audience comprises people with zero knowledge of technology. Technical content written from this perspective will turn out to be childish.

Adopt a professional approach to ensure your content appears sophisticated and user-friendly.

  1. Break up content into relevant tasks

I have come across a lot of technical literature that runs into hundreds of pages. Reading through such documents is a herculean effort. These documents are not helpful because readers take a lot of time to find relevant topics. It’s a waste of effort for the writer because his content will eventually find no takers.

This is why it is important that all content should be logically divided into achievable tasks that can be pursued individually by readers. This is a convenient approach that will be appreciated by the reader.

  1. Use simple and easy-to-understand English

Resist the urge to use fancy words in technical content. Your readers will be spread across a wide demography – they may not understand certain local phrases aimed at a limited audience.

Your article should avoid the following:

  • First person account: Unless the writing is informal in nature, a first person account should be avoided.
  • Unnecessary capitalization: Only proper nouns or other important terminologies should have the first letter capitalized. Unnecessary capitalization may bring focus on the wrong words.
  • Contraction: Avoid words such as “that’s” and “let’s”.
  • Ambiguity: Avoid phrases such as “the installation will take a little longer”. Be specific and use phrases such as “the installation will be completed in 4 minutes”.
  1. Make your content

Technical content tends to look very boring and ordinary without proper sections. A descriptive index is a must – it should guide the reader to relevant sections. This saves time for the reader, helping him access information quicker.

Sub-headings should be provided to help readers understand content what the content is about without having to go through the whole text.

  1. Use visuals to break the monotony

Visuals such as diagrams, flowcharts or screenshots should accompany your content. It helps readers understand the content better while adding credibility to what you are trying to explain.

Use visuals at strategic locations in the content. The flow of content should look attractive and pleasing to the eye.

  1. Test and verify the content yourself

Test the content you have prepared, especially if it involves steps to perform specific tasks. Make changes wherever required as per your tests. The content you prepare should be fully edited and proofread.

This way, you can restrict the errors pointed out by the QA team to a minimum. It improves your reliability and helps to establish your writing credentials.

  1. Exchange notes with other technical writers

Technical writing is evolving with every passing day. It’s important that you share ideas on the latest writing trends with other writers, especially those who work for different organizations. This will help you grow as a writer while establish connections with peers in the industry.

I hope you found these writing tips on how to become a technical writer par excellence useful. Your main goal should be to create credible and detailed content that helps readers understand a product better. The tips featured here will take you forward in that direction.

Do you have any queries regarding the content in this article? Or maybe you have some words to share from your own experience? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. I look forward to reading and replying to your comments!

About the author

Neerav Mehta is the CEO & Founder of Red Crackle, a Drupal development company based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

85 replies on “12 Tips To Become The Perfect Technical Writer”

Nice information Neerav, But I think these days things have changed a little and info-graphics are taking over most of the legacy style of story writing. The much one is capable of covering in a graphics, the more it is able to attract people.

Content should be crafted in such a way so that info-graphics can be used and cover main points of topic. What do you say?

Hi Deepak! There is no doubt that infographics add a new dimension to technical articles, especially those written for tech news or review sites.

However, the technical writing I am referring to is the one used in the software industry. It involves conversion of complex tasks into a set of easy-to-understand instructions. It is primarily written to help users get acquainted with a new system (hardware/software). In this scenario, it is ideal to include screenshots, flowcharts and diagrams that describe the system better (as described in #10 of this article).

Ya you are right that somebody must use picture, graphs etc. to make the website interactive. But you also have to keep in mind that using too much HQ pictures will slow down your bandwidth. What do you think about it?

Hello Neerav,
I have just started my career on blogging and I do write my blog post myself.
The article you have provided has a lot of information about the Technical writing guidelines. I was wondering, how can we improve the creative writing skills?
Please leave me some advice.
Thanks.

Hi Nishesh,

Creative writing skills can be improved through a set of learning processes. It takes time and dedication to become the perfect creative writer. I would suggest the following:

i. Constantly read articles on quality sites such as this one
ii. Brush through grammar basics to produce sentences that read and look right
iii. Write whenever you can. Be inspired by your surroundings and create articles that are closer to your heart. This helps to groom the writer within you. Finally, share your writing with an expert for advice on areas of improvement

Hope this helps!

Fantastic article! It is written in a really clear way 🙂 I have a question for you: if there’s someone who really loves writing, but does it only in a private form (as a diary, for example), would you suggest for him to start writing a blog online?

Hi there,

Blogging online will help to nurture your passion for writing. You will have an audience willing to give a patient ear to what you have to say. It provides you with the platform and motivation to write on a regular basis.

It takes time to do that in almost every domain. Normally, you should have some sort of technical background in order to understand and describe the products easier, but If you don’t, you do need to research terms from the app.

I know that communication with the development team can be problematic, since most of the times you don’t really know what they are saying (not intentional, but that’s the language that they use).

It’s the same for a lot of domains, from fashion (where I write) to health and economics. If you don’t have a background in the domain, get ready to storm the web or some books for the info that you need.

Hi Linda,

I agree that a writer who ventures into technical writing needs a good grasp of the hardware/software he/she is dealing with. As mentioned in my intro, there needs to be a better understanding between the technical writer and the company he is dealing with.

Thanks Neerav for providing us such as eye-catchy article. There are lots of suggestions within the 12 tips to be perfect writer. Newbie article writers must be benefited by landing in this post. All the best. Hope, carry on.

Really nice tips here being the most important, in my opinion, to be able to put things in a clear and simple language. Many technical writers abuse of a too hard to understand language that serves to sound pedantic and does not help users to get to the point..

Hi Neerav, read out your post and agreed with you. I’ve one question. Suppose, I’ve written more than 500 posts. Now a service or anything has been changed that I’ve written in my first post. How should I update that in my post? And How will I manage my time to look into the matter. Because I wrote it a long time ago.

Hi Quamarul! It’s easier to keep track of 500 articles if you have used them for SEO purposes. You will have to keep tweaking them at regular intervals to ensure they remain keyword optimized. The best way to do this is by maintaining an excel sheet of articles. Keep a tab on the articles listed to ensure they remain relevant with the times while matching your SEO team’s keyword goals.

Hi!
First of all I would say thanks to you for sharing this useful post with us. I read this complete article and enjoyed it thoroughly. You have discussed valid points and It was so easy to understand word by word.
Thanks and keep writing like this.

Hi Neerav,
I like your tips, very comprehensive and valuable, you represent as a good technical writer, I just new and still learn for it, but I have been a long time as a reader, I agree with simple explanation, and honest review, no fake information, like you mention above, almost reader have knowledge for what their search, so we know what is worth it to read or not.
Thank you a lot

Hello Mr.. Neerav Mehta.
You have write exactly what i am looking for. After reading your article I have get some confidence to be a writer. Honestly I like your elaborately described article and its help me a lot.
Thank you ! 🙂

Yes, attention to detail is a must because the product should be explained in its entirety to the reader. At the same time, the content should be simplified to ensure everybody understands it .

Nice article that you have here, You must have put in a great effort to think so mush stuff related to technical writing. Really this was inspiring for me, I’ll use these tips for sure.

Keep up the good work.

Hi,

Last year I took a course in Technical Writing and it was really useful and now I am searching for a full-time job as a technical writer.

Since I joined the course, people have been asking me what technical writing is and I have to explain it to them. Hardly anyone knows what actually a technical writer does. Most guys mistake us for a blogger or ad writer.

It’s not only the general people who are in the dark, even people working in Software companies don’t have any idea what technical writing is.

Thanks for sharing your tips and I am sure these tips will be if help.

Thank you.

Hi Neerav,
The content you provide are excellent, apart from that I’m quite impressed how you actively participate in your comment. Last time when i visited this page it had only 10 comments and now its 53 and you reply all of them. WOW. More blogger like you is what we need in internet world.
Thanks.

Thanks, Larry, It’s important to engage with readers in the Comments section. I haven’t got the chance to respond to all the comments though.

Hello Neerav mehta
i am taking a technical writing course from january.so your article are very important for me.i believe that i can be learning something about technical writing from your post.
Thank you for sharing this post.

Hello,

Thanks for sharing your useful information. I am also started to write content for some of the blogs related to health tips, weigh loss tips
. Thanks for sharing this useful information which definitely help me to write the content which is useful for reader..

In my opinion, the practice is the way to go here. If you thing you are not a better writer but you can be,then just try to write the best you can and practice as much as you can. This will make your writing become clear and clear and that day would come when you would be in the league as the top bloggers.

I have to admit. Technical writing is not my cup of tea. I really don’t like it as much because it doesn’t give much room for creativity. I know that you can still be creative with it. But the technical terms always kills my vibe as a writer. Oh well. Maybe it is just me.

I’d like to talk about good writing. In my journey through life as a technical writer, I’ve pretty much always believed there’s no such a thing as “good writing”. There’s only good rewriting. When you start to write your composition, hopefully following an outline you previously composed, go back after you’ve written several pages of text, and read it. Then edit it for grammar and typing errors with a pencil. Now is the time to rewrite what you first wrote as a rough draft, and submit it as your final essay.

Hi Neerav, you have an awesome article especially for new inspiring technical writers like me. You have the clearest, concise and most relevant tips I have ever read. I hope to get in touch with you and I hope you can share other qualitative materials so we can further enhance our writing skills. You have given really great points to start with. BR, Isa

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