Job Descriptions And Duties

What Is Technical Writing?

Share on Google Plus Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn

Technical writing is more than writing manuals. This is mainly due to the rise of digital information .

Paper manuals are the oldest possible forms of technical writing. They are still very common, from the simplest user manuals for a flashlight to complicated maintenance manuals for aircraft engines.

Why the - technical writing - becomes important?

But nowadays (online) help takes over the function of manuals. This is not only the case with computer programs for the PC or applications on a smartphone. Consider, for example, printers that explain their own workings in a touch screen. The principles behind paper manuals (in technical terms: 'print') and digital help functions are remarkably identical: solve tasks well with useful titles, separate instructions from each other in separate steps, write instructions briefly in the imperative way.

But technical writing means more. For example, a technical writer must also be able to document. The so-called 'technical construction file' consists of, among other things, a description of the composite parts of the product and a risk assessment in connection with safe use. This TCF is for internal use only and is intended for controlling authorities in particular. A technical writer needs to know how to compose such a file and how to trace missing documents that are missing in the file. Technical writing also means: technical documentation.

Checklists also belong to the domain of technical writing. Checklists can be on paper, but nowadays it is becoming increasingly common to present checklists digitally. After all, users can check these checklists digitally. The computer can then check whether all parts of the checklist have been completed. Especially for pilots such digital checklists are an extra guarantee for a safe flight.

Is technical writing a profession? (Yes)

Technical writing is a profession. This does not mean that someone without experience in writing instructional material could not write a good manual or checklist. It does mean that a technical writer must be aware of essential writing rules. Of course, a technical writer must also be familiar with the operation of the product in question. Without understanding the subject matter, it is not possible to write comprehensibly .

How does someone acquire knowledge about technical writing? Everyone can call themselves a technical writer immediately. In other words, there is no legal obligation to follow a certain course in technical writing. This may be mandatory in for example the legal profession and the medical world, but that is not the case in the world of technical writing. International standards in the field of instructive materials, such as the globally popular 82079 standard , also say nothing about a necessarily necessary training. They only ask for knowledge and expertise. This can be obtained by a technical writer through a training course or through experience, with or without supplemental training sessions.

Are there no special courses that produce a qualified 'technical writer'?

Yes, you can find, Specially in countries with an industrial base such as he United States. These courses are of an academic level and lead to a Bachelor's or Master's degree. The diversity in supply is great. Some degree programs lead to a degree in 'science' (BSc, Msc), some to a degree in the 'doctor' (BA, MA). This indicates that technical writing is a subject that moves between two poles: on the one hand technique & science ('beta') and on the other hand communication & writing ('alpha'). This combination of two worlds can also be deduced from the names of the programs: some are really called technical communication or scientific communication, others again professional communication.

Is technical writing only about technology?

The answer to this question is: no, certainly not. There is even a lot to be said that a technical writer must first and foremost be a good communicator. After all, he has to get the right information up from often a jumble of information: scribbles from a designer, datasheets from a specification writer, test reports from the production department, CAD drawings from the company network and so on.

For those involved, the operation of 'their' product is often very self-evident. But a technical writer must be able to draw along the sidelines on behalf of the ignorant user. In the large amount of information it may be that he lacks certain information ("You want a user to clean the tank regularly, but how often and with what kind of cleaning agent or cleaning products?").

The demands made by technical writing are therefore quite proper. A technical writer must not only know the writing rules, but also master the discipline, be able to analyze what information is not yet available and to request this information . The latter, requesting the information, presupposes that a technical writer must be socially skilled. A technical writer who is merely 'techie' can not write well technically. He must be able to approach the subject matter experts, the people who have the knowledge in-house or in their minds, in a friendly manner. He must be able to enter the world of the matter expert. But he must also remain outside without the matter experts seeing him as a stranger. In practice this can be quite a difficult task.

Is technical writing about 'writing'?

This question may come across as crazy. Yet this question is not at all crazy. After all, it may very well be that text is not the most effective way of transfer when setting up instructive material. We all know the saying "A picture says more than 1,000 words". We all know immediately what we mean by this expression. Man and his ancestors populate and view (!) This earth for millions of years. Only in the past 10,000 years have people been familiar with (the forerunners of) the script.

If it is thus possible to depict an action in a drawing, then it is preferable to articulate the same action. A technical writer must therefore be able to see when technical writing should actually mean technical signs. That does not in itself have to do anything about his role. On the contrary, his role is to arrive at instructions that are as effective as possible. If there are illustrations, he can taste the satisfaction of a satisfied customer or satisfied customers of the customer. After all, the latter are the real users of the written or signed manual.

Often a combination of both, drawing and text, is otherwise inevitable. Think of safety instructions such as "Lifting only 4 people!" A picture with four people lifting a bed is not enough. After all, such a picture can mean anything: 'carry the bed with a group of people, not only' or 'the bed should preferably be carried to the right place by people and without further aids' or' make sure that at least at every vertex human hands can carry the bed '. In order to prevent misunderstandings, text is often required.

Back to Top