What is Technical Writing?
Until a few years ago, I had never even heard of Technical Writing. It wasn’t until taking a weekend course at BCIT that my passion for a career in tech writing was born. We were reviewing the BC Fire Code manual and I was fascinated with how it’s laid out: the format, the headings, the appendices. It is beautiful. Later that year I began my journey as a student in the Technical Writing program.
SO WHAT IS IT ALREADY?
Traditionally, technical writing has been defined by “documenting processes”. It mostly consisted of 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 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! I’m a chaotic person – my “stuff” is all over the house, I’m always running from place to place and often packing more into one day than I can handle – 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, you are taking information about a system, process or product and writing information in terms that the end user will understand.
Often a technical writer will help guide a client through the planning process. 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.
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. 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.
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. In my opinion, the most rewarding part about tech writing is the more you do it, the better you get!