“Doesn’t a technical writer just write down what the developer/engineer built?”. You still hear this misconception from time to time, but technical writing is actually a complex task that requires much more than technical expertise. Find out what really matters when it comes to succeeding as a technical writer.
It’s clear that technical understanding is important for technical writing. However, compared to the developer, a change in perspective is necessary. After all, to the end customers for whom the technical writing team is ultimately producing the content for, it is less important how the product is designed rather than what they can actually do with it. In essence, this means to create successful manuals, technical writers must focus on the functionality, the usage situations, and of course the possible dangers. They therefore bring the customer’s perspective into the development process, ideally ensuring better usability and preventing “over-engineering”.
In their everyday work, this means linguistic expression and didactic skills are even more important for technical writers than their access to the technical basics of the product. This is where certain questions arise, such as: “How can a text be written so that it is easy to translate?”, or: “What does minimalism mean for a user manual and what are the consequences for documentation?”. These are just a couple of examples of the many questions that need to be answered entirely regardless of the technology. This is because much of what is built into a product is never seen by the customer, so it’s irrelevant to them. But what can be done with the product is not necessarily obvious from the components – and neither is the question of how to create the manuals reliably and efficiently.
From a technical point of view, technical writing is therefore a multi-discipline task. It requires many skills, some of them very different, which must be integrated with each other in an intermediate level of knowledge. This is also reflected in the skills that make a successful technical writer and go beyond technical knowledge.
Successful technical writers are often among the best-connected employees in the company. Their work brings them into contact with departments as diverse as R&D, service, training, support, sales, and marketing. They are often the link that gets conversations going between these different sub-units of the company. In addition to the content requirements of the job, this is also due to the fact that larger investments in technical writing are often easier to implement with partners within the company. Technical writers therefore need more than just excellent communication skills in the written form.
Last but not least, creativity is a skill rarely associated with technical writing. But if you want to be successful as a technical writer, you really do need to display a fair amount of creativity. We don’t mean when it comes to writing the instructions – a “snappy writing style” is not required here, instead precise formulation that conforms to standards as much as possible is favored.
The biggest challenge for technical writers, however, is how to ensure that product users actually read the instructions. The answer can only be found with a good portion of creativity: reading appeal, design, media selection, and content strategies – there is plenty of room for creativity in technical writing.