What Is Technical Writing?

Modis Posted 21 May 2019

What Is Technical Writing?

technical writing exampleThe standard definition of technical writing is any writing related to technical processes or documentation. This type of writing is used in company reports, manuals, corporate statements and various types of manuals and handbooks. These types of documents are known as long-form content, but with the changing writing and internet landscape, short-form technical content is also a large part of the technical writing field. Technical writers must have the ability to take complex processes and procedures and turn that information into social media posts, infographics, emails, press releases and other forms of quick newsworthy and trending content. Writing a technical document can be a challenge, but asking questions and becoming an expert in a particular niche makes this type of writing simpler.

FAQ About Technical Writing

Technical Writing Examples

While modern technical writers are expected to dabble in short-form content in addition to longer content, traditional technical writing includes content such as: employee or client handbooks, training manuals and instruction books, manuals used to explain machinery or software processes, lengthy white papers and company reports based on recent or new information, case analyses, user guides, operations guides, various types of marketing communications (can include complex emails), policy and procedure guides, employee handbooks and human resources guides, engineering guides, brochures and even “how-to" blog posts and guides. Whenever a product needs further explanation or recent research requires an in-depth analysis, a technical document is often required.

How to Write a Technical Writing Report:

Drafting a technical writing report begins with making sure that all of the research, data and other information has been gathered. Since there is so much detail that goes into this type of report, it's essential that an overview or plan is drafted in advance before beginning the actual text.

Here are the steps to drafting an overview of the report:

  • Title Page: What is the report about? Be as concise as possible.
  • Abstract: This is a summary of the report and what will be in it, roughly.
  • Table of Contents: This is a detailed overview of each page of the report.
  • List of Figures: Create a specific chapter summary.
  • Main Report: This includes the introduction (what the report is about), background information (why it was created and for what purpose), project description (what is the project that you are describing?), data and/or discussion of the data (presenting the data and discussing it if needed), and conclusion (what is the overall point of the research and data?).
  • Acknowledgements: This is a list of anyone or any company that assisted in the report or in the collecting or funding of research or data.
  • References: This is a complete reference list.
  • Conclusion: This highlights key points, summarizes material, makes recommendations, suggests future research or reports and can also include research limitations or other important information not included in report body.
  • Appendix: This includes any information that is too lengthy to add to the body of a report and can be added as an appendix or supplement to the information included in the report.

Each section should be as concise as possible but also include all pertinent information. It is also essential that the target audience be kept in mind. If the audience is not a technical one, it might be necessary to explain each concept in simple terms. Some reports also include an 'executive summary,' which is a quick but detailed summary of the report designed to be read by busy top executives.

What Is the Goal of Technical Writing?

The goal of technical writing is to help an audience further understand a technical report, document or other types of complex data. The language used in a technical writing report can vary based on audience. If the report is meant for a general audience that does not have a technical background, the goal of technical writing would be to turn complex information into concepts that anyone can understand. In contrast, if the audience has a technical background, a report may delve deeper into a new type of technology, machinery, drug or new research that relates to a specific industry. In short, the intended audience will determine the overall tone and point of the document.

How to Get Into Technical Writing

The demand for technical writers is relatively high based on the simple fact that most writers do not think they have enough of a technical background to write these types of documents. More often than not, however, technical documents do not require a background in engineering. If you can read through complex information and understand that information enough to write about it in terms your audience can understand, you can find work as a technical writer. It's also important to ask a lot of questions in order to comprehend a document or a stack of research. Another great way to break into technical writing is to find a niche that you are interested in. The more you know about a topic, the more likely you are to be able to demonstrate your knowledge and become a technical writer in that field.

Where Is Technical Writing Used?

Technical writing seems like an elusive field, but it is actually a form of writing used everywhere. When a company needs to explain a complex set of data or teach an audience how to use something in detail, a technical document is written and distributed. These documents can literally be anything from manuals that come with new furniture or equipment to research and data generated from a corporation and sent to shareholders. Technical documents are used in many fields from engineering to chemistry and even by manufacturing companies. If a subject requires explanation or any kind, a technical document is drafted by a technical writer.

How Is Technical Writing Different From Other Types of Writing?

Each type of writing is unique, but technical writing tends to focus more on an explanation of how a product works or why something was created. In corporate terms, a technical report might indicate recent research or data that has been compiled into a lengthy document for employees or clients to read. In other instances, a technical document might contain steps for putting together an item or piece of equipment. This is one of the few types of writing that requires the author to read through a fair amount of data, understand a topic in great detail, and then piece together those bits of information to form a document that an intended audience can easily follow and lead. Technical writing has a direct purpose with a specified outline. Other types of writing do not require as much technical detail (such as steps, appendixes, data, etc.).

How to Find Technical Writing Jobs

A number of job platforms list technical writing jobs (including our job board that you can find here), so finding a job isn't necessarily the hard part. What is difficult about securing a technical writing contract is proving that you have an in-depth knowledge of a topic or that you can take complex information and turn it into an easily digestible guide or report for an intended audience. If you do not have any technical writing experience, you can secure this type of writing gig by completing an unpaid test (most companies will require this sort of test as part of the writing process). When completing this type of test, it's important to research any part of a topic that you do not understand in order to write a sample that is easy to read and includes all of the necessary details.

How to Get Technical Writing Experience

One of the best ways to gain experience as a technical writer is to find a topic that you want to learn a lot about. Choose a topic that you find relatively simple to explain or understand, and find one that you can easily write about. You can further demonstrate your knowledge of a topic by taking courses, reading about the topic, and following leaders in a particular industry on social media. You can also spend some time discussing the niche you choose in your own blog or website or simply by demonstrating your knowledge during interviews. If you have worked in a particular industry in the past or know a lot about a certain field, you can also point to this experience when applying for technical writing jobs.

Is Technical Writing a Good Career Choice?

There are a lot of writers but few choose the technical writing route. Since most companies will need a large array of technical documents, technical writers are often in demand. In order to find stable work, applying for a position as a technical writer with a company is a good idea, but you can also find contracts writing technical documents as a freelance writer. It's difficult to estimate how much a freelance technical writer can make salary-wise, but full-time salaried technical writers tend to start around $50,000 annually with senior technical writers making $70,000 or more annually. Writers can also charge more per document for technical writing since it does require more research and a stronger in-depth knowledge of a particular topic.

How to Improve Technical Writing Skills

Clarity is the most important aspect of a technical document. To improve your technical writing skills, focus on writing clear and concise sentences. You can also practice reading about a complex topic and then writing about it in quick and easy-to-read sentences. Another way to improve your technical writing skills is to try and remove personal style from technical documents (unless you are asked to write a funny or witty report). Most technical documents are on the dry side and really only serve to help a reader understand a document, which doesn't leave much room for eloquent prose.

Is Technical Writing For Me?

If you find it simple to read through white papers and engineering manuals and then write about what you read in quick sentences, technical writing might be for you. You may also find a love for technical writing if you enjoy being given an exact outline to follow along with all of the necessary documents and research materials needed to complete a technical document. If you prefer to write fiction or have a lengthy writing style, technical writing might not be your best option - but, don't worry, there are plenty of other types of writing that require those very skills!

Guides to Pursuing a Career in the Technical Writing Field