Technical Writing Complete Guide

The demand for technical writers has increased faster than any other profession.

Bureau of Labor Statistics has anticipated an 11% growth in the employment of technical writing from 2016 to 2026.

Technical writing has evolved with time.

This evolution has made it difficult to understand ‘what is technical writing’.

Let me make it clear for you.

A few years ago:

Technical Writing was just about writing user manuals, guidelines, press releases, etc. – mostly in a formal tone.

Today:

Technical writing is explaining a complex or technical concept to a technical or non-technical reader. It can be formal or informal depending on your audience and client requirements.

 

In this guide, I’ll teach you how to become a technical writer and everything there is to know about technical writing.

We will start from the very basics to clear your concepts, build a strong foundation. Next, you will learn:

  • What is a technical writer
  • How technical writing is different from other writing styles
  • Types of Technical Writing
  • 5 Step process to technical writing
  • Use of 5 Ws & H in preparing a document
  • 7 Cs of technical writing

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced writer, you will find a lot to polish your writing skills in this guide to technical writing.

 

What is Technical Writing?

What is a Technical Writer?

A technical writer is a person that writes instructions to deliver complex or technical information to technical or non-technical readers.

For example, software guidelines are created by a technical writer for an end-user. That end user maybe another software engineer or just a layman.

Keep in mind that technical information is not just about technology. It could be any technical concept of any field.

This article you are reading is also a piece of technical writing.

I’m delivering instructions about ‘writing’. My readers include beginners and expert writers.

 

Job Description of a Technical Writer:

  1. Understand the requirements of the user/reader.
  2. Collaborate with the technical team to understand topic, product, or service (any subject of writing).
  3. Research and learn about the topic of writing.
  4. Use infographics, images, tables, and graphs to support the article or document.

 

As a technical writer, you will have more responsibilities depending on the:

  • Type of technical writing
  • Topic, product, or service
  • User requirements

 

 Technical Writing is Different from Other Writings

Technical Writing is Different from Other Writings

The goal of technical writing is to deliver a message to its readers. As a technical writer, your goal is to make it as easy to understand as possible.

Other writing fields work a little differently.

Creative Writing:

Creative writing is practiced to educate or entertain the reader. You just have to write in a way that the reader enjoys.

Any article you read about celebrities or non-technical information is creative writing.

Creative Writing to Entertain

 

Creative Writing to Educate

 

Academic Writing:

Academic writing is a formal style of writing to create academic documents. It is entirely different from technical writing.

It has its own rules, structure, and formatting.

Example of Academic Writing

Understand the Types of Technical Writing

Technical writing itself is a big field.

It doesn’t comprise just one format or writing style. Technical writing changes according to the user and audience requirements.

As long as your goal is to simplify a concept for your readers, it is Technical Writing.

Now there are no recognized types of technical writing.

With my years of experience in this field, I can safely divide all technical writing tasks into 3 categories.

 

1.    Traditional Technical Writing

It mostly comprises the documentation of a technical process. Traditional technical writing examples include:

  • Product Manuals
  • User Help Guides
  • Technical Reports

 

2.    Content Marketing

Content marketing is the marketing of a product or service through technical writing. This can be formal or informal. Informal content marketing is the most effective and most popular – depends on what you are writing and its goals.

Content marketing is the most widely used type of technical writing these days. Some examples of content marketing are:

  • Press Releases
  • User Interface Text
  • White Papers
  • Website Content
  • Product Descriptions

 

3.    Business Writing

It is a disputed concept.

But, business writing is a part of technical writing. All types of technical writing are different to some extent.

Each has its own rules, formats, and further categories; but all lie under one major type of writing.

In all types of technical writing, you have to simplify a complex concept or process for your readers. Some examples of business writing include:

  • Emails
  • Memos
  • Proposals
  • Executive Summaries
  • Reports

 

If you haven’t skipped the upper portion, you would now have a strong understanding of technical writing, its types, and your field.

Now, let’s discuss how to get started as a technical writer.

Follow Five Steps to Technical Writing

Efficient technical writing is done in a proper structure. ‘Handbook of Technical Writing 9th Edition’ recommends dividing this job into 5 steps.

 

1.    Preparation

You don’t just get a topic and start writing whatever comes in your mind. You have to establish a foundation first.  This foundation includes understanding:

  • The purpose of writing the document
  • Who you are writing for
  • Understand the scope of the document
  • Determine its medium, i.e. web article, email, report, etc.

 

Below discussed 5 Ws and H will further elaborate this part of guidelines for technical writing.

 

Ask 5 Ws and 1 H before You Start Writing

5 Ws and 1 H is one of the best technical writing techniques to begin a document. Asking these 6 questions will ensure you fully understand the subject, audience, structure of a document.

 

·        What is the Topic?

Ask your employer or client about the topic. Make sure you understand what portion of a field you need to cover. One headline can be discussed in more than one ways.

·        Who is Your Audience?

It is important to understand your audience so you can write according to their mindset and connect to them on a personal level.

While business documents and traditional writing styles don’t need to connect on a personal level, new web articles and eBooks require you to keep your readers engaged.

·        Why are You Writing this Document?

You have to understand the motive behind creating the document. Is it for entertainment, education, delivering information?

If it’s entertainment or education, then you don’t need to follow tips for technical writing.

·        Where Does This Document Belong?

Understanding the platform where this document will be shared helps you better visualize and write it. For example: if it’s a web article, you should visit the website.

·        When Will It Be Sent or Published?

To ensure all information is up to date, you should know the date when it will be sent or published. You may have to write news related or trendy topics according to the time.

·        How Should You Write It?

While many authors stop at 5 Ws, there is 1 H that I consider essential to discuss. It catches any user requirements that you need to practice on your document.

 

2.    Research

As technical writing is about simplifying a complex concept, you can’t do it if you don’t understand the subject yourself.

Research is the most important of part technical writing.

There are two methods of research you have to follow as a technical writer.

Primary Research:

Understanding the subject through interviews, questionnaires, experiments, surveys, etc. You even brainstorm and outline your own experience and observation.

This helps you understand what you are going to write and the proper structure to do it.

I like to call it Pre-Research because it is done before you start writing.

Secondary Research:

In secondary research of technical writing, you gather the information that is already analyzed and compiled by other sources.

You gather this data about the topics that you have outlined in primary research.

This research includes collecting sources from books, reports, and online articles. You may have to conduct this research before and during your writing.

 

3.    Organization

Your readers won’t be able to understand your information if it’s not properly organized. You will know the right structure after you have completed your research.

 

Technical Writing Style Guide:

A document created in technical writing should follow this structure. It is easier to understand a document organized in this sequence.

Opening Description Paragraph

The opening is the most important part of a document or article. This is where you gain or lose the reader.

If you are doing content marketing, then you must keep your readers engaged. You have to assure him that he will find his solution on this page.

You should cover all or some of the following in opening description paragraph according to the needs of end-user.

  1. Why is interesting or useful for them?
  2. What does this subject do?
  3. Who is subject or topic for?
  4. When to use it?

 

Mention Warning or Caution

Remember, technical writing is not just about writing web articles nor limited to writing user manuals.

Usually, at this point, you should mention a warning or caution (if there is any).

A web article may not have the warning to cover. Still, there might be something important that your user must know.

Steps or Process

This is the phase where you start with the details on the topic. A document might be in a:

  • Sequential structure if it’s a process
  • Chronological structure if it covers the history
  • Cause and effect structure to prove a point

 

You should create outlines of the entire document and structure them in a way that is easily understandable for readers.

 

Outcome or Result

It is a recommended practice to create a conclusion at the end of the document. This portion should inform your reader what they should expect from the mentioned process, product, service, or any topic.

  • The conclusion shouldn’t be very long
  • It should briefly cover a summary
  • And, its expected results

 

4.    Writing

Writing will be a lot easier when you have already done your research and created an outline.

Now your only work is to put words in each headline.

People share well-written articles. You can see my blog writing tips to get maximum shares.

There are a lot of technical writing tips to share on this process. The 7 Cs are the best technical writing techniques to ensure its quality.

The 7 Cs of Technical Writing

Different authors have modified the 7 Cs according to their experience. You might find a few Cs of technical writing different from what you may have read before.

Worry not, all convey the same idea and objective even with different words.

Change this Image

·         Completeness

Cover every topic and query that your reader might have. Think from the perspective of your reader; it helps you better understand their expectations.

A piece of technical writing covers complete information with a proper structure.

Having a clear idea of all 5 Ws and H will help you create a complete article.

 

·         Clarity

All information you provide must not be confusing. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity or any double meaning statement. Avoid using idioms and metaphors.

 

·         Concision

Technical writing is always to the point. Keep it precise and relevant to the topic.

There are five rules of concise communication:

  1. Avoid the Obvious: Write according to the level of the audience.
  2. Avoid Padding: Don’t add unnecessary details and provide a simple answer.
  3. Avoid Prepositional Phrases: These make your text unnecessarily long and tiresome to read. For example, use ‘To’ instead of ‘In order to’.
  4. Avoid Verbosity: Keep succinct sentences. Use ‘with time’ instead of ‘with the passage of time’.
  5. Avoid Pomposity: Write to express, not to impress. Use easy and plain vocabulary.

 

·         Consistency

Ensure that information structure and format remains the same throughout the document or article.

·         Coherence

A document should be organized in a way that the reader won’t have trouble understanding it. Every next piece of information should be relevant to prior. In other words, the document must have a flow.

 

·         Credibility

Technical writing is all about gathering information and presenting in a simple format. Make sure you always provide the reference and source of information you use.

 

·         Correctness

This part usually comes in the proofreading phase. You have to make sure your writing is error-free. There shouldn’t be any grammatical or punctuation mistake.

It also ensures that there is no ambiguous, or misleading statement. Don’t be afraid to change the entire structure of the document if needed.

 

5.    Revision

A copy is incomplete until it is proofread and edited.

You need entirely different sets of mind for writing and editing.

  • Write Drunk, Edit Sober.
  • Be Fearless When Writing, Be Ruthless When Editing.

 

These are two very famous and useful quotes.

If possible have someone else proofread your document. If you are doing it yourself, take out some time to clear your mind first.

You might also like my guides:

 

Conclusion:

Technical writing is a writing style that covers many types of documents. Each document and type of technical writing is a little different from the other.

The technical writing tips shared on this page work for all types of documents. Just make sure you follow this 5 step process with 5 Ws & H, and 7 Cs.

 

What type of technical writing do you do?

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