What is Technical Writing?
I always knew I wanted to write, but I never imagined being a technical writer. Until a few years ago, I had never even heard of Technical Writing. It wasn’t until I was taking a weekend Fire Code course at British Columbia Institute of Technology (What can I say? I was a bit lost and trying to find some sort of direction!) that my passion for a career in tech writing was born. In the course we were introduced to how to navigate the code and I was fascinated with how this binder full of information was laid out: the format, the headings, the appendices. It was beautiful. My dad told me about the program offering at BCIT and later that year I began my journey as a student in the Technical Writing program.
Traditionally, technical writing was defined by “documenting processes” and mostly creating software manuals and instructional guides. Today, the world of technical writing is constantly evolving to “documenting ALL technical processes”. The format is no longer limited to lengthy user manuals or instructional guides but can include reports, policies, press releases, manuals, emails, memos, product descriptions, reviews, proposals or websites. Any time tech is involved in writing – it’s technical writing.
The BCIT website lists the following pitch for their part-time studies program:
“If you enjoy writing, have a logical mind, like to tease order out of complex situations, and have a knack for problem solving and putting yourself in the readers’ shoes, tech writing may be for you.”
This is me in a nutshell! In all honestly, I’m a chaotic person – my “stuff” is all over the house, I’m always running from place to place and packing way too much into one day than I feel I can handle (I’m working on this!) – but when it comes to my calendar, work or my writing, I am super organized. There needs to be order.
Tech writing isn’t just about the writing itself. It involves planning, collaboration and review. In essence, as a tech writer you are taking information about a system, process or product and writing information in terms that the end user will understand.
Planning: Often a technical writer will help guide a client through the planning process and together you will define the type of document they want, the content to be included, the overall scope of the project and who the target audience is.
Collaboration: It is a best practice to engage experts and specialists throughout all stages of the project. There will most likely be gaps in knowledge when you are working through how best to convey information to the user, and you will need to engage with subject matter experts (SMEs) from the very beginning of the writing process to make the information conveyed most useful.
Review: This doesn’t just mean checking for spelling and grammar! The project should go through a technical review, often following each draft. Does the writing you’ve used make sense to the end user? Are they able to complete the process or use the product described? The review timeline will vary depending on the client and the project can be reviewed by a peer, a supervisor, or a subject matter expert.
Technical writing is a valuable skill whether you are using it in conjunction with a current job or you are building a career of it. In my opinion, the most rewarding part about tech writing is the more you do it, the better you get!