Technical Writer: What Skills Should I Have?

Posted: 18 Aug 2017

Technical Writer: What Skills Should I Have?

Entering the world of tech may seem daunting due to the seemingly endless supply of possible IT jobs titles that there appears to be. However, no matter what technological advances there may be, the role of a Technical Writer will always be necessary.

With the primary role of a Technical Writer consisting of writing up technical and business documents, the Technical Writer must have a certain set of skills to ensure that each completed piece of content contains all the relevant information and can be used as an accurate guideline by others. So, if you’re interested in a career change, why not take a look at some of the core skills that you need to have and assess whether you’re right for the role?

In charge of writing and creating important documents that will cover a wide variety of topics, it is understandable that employers are looking for individuals who they think have a certain set of skills. One of the first credited technical writers was Joseph D. Chapline, who wrote the first users manual in 1949. However, it has been discussed that technical writing started before Chapline’s career, and actually takes its inspiration from the recording of a scientific experiment. Following a four-step plan, technical writers have a guideline to follow which ensures that they cover all the necessary information. The steps are; state the problem; describe the method; display the results; draw the conclusions.

As you may see from the outlined steps above, there is no room for personal interpretation or opinion in the world of technical writing. One must make sure that they are only including what is imperative for the reader to know, without being influenced by the writer. Avoiding any personal voice is an issue that may arise, and you may feel as though it is difficult to distance yourself away from the words that you are writing. However, the job of a technical writer is to have a consistent tone of voice throughout each piece of writing, so distancing yourself emotionally from the work is the best way to ensure this happens.

As a technical writer may write pieces of content such as system identification documents, plans, user guides and manuals, these need to include an intense attention to detail. This will make sure that the reader understands fully what is expected from them whilst reading the content. One key skill that you must have is being able to not get overwhelmed at the level of detail that you must include in your writing. Compiling this information naturally may be something that requires practice, so attempt to produce a piece of content that is detail heavy to see how you get along with it. Another useful thing to practice may be learning how to target the information you are writing to a specific group. This will be a useful skill as you will be able to check that you are writing in a style that is appropriate for the client.

The Society for Technical Communication website has all the information that you may need to inform yourself further on this subject. It states that the role of a technical writer is to communicate about technical or specialised topics, to communicate by using technology and to provide instructions about how to do something. Although this seems broad, the content that you’re writing about may be completely different from day-to-day, as the field includes any form of communication that follows the characteristics listed above, so you will have to be flexible in your role of a technical writer.

Not only does the technical writer provide information to those who need it but, as a result of this, they also advance the companies that they are working for. The Society for Technical Communication includes this as an example: “Medical instructions help patients and care-providers manage a patient’s treatment, improving the health of the patient while reducing costs and risks associated with incorrect care”.

As you can see, the role of a technical writer is actually very important in the tech world, and the skills that are needed for this job are transferable across many other areas in the business. If you’re interested in entering the world of technical writing, consider these guidelines and see whether or not you’re suited to the role.


Image credit: Matthew Henry

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