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Technical Writing, What is it?

Updated on March 13, 2013
Technical Writing Fact Sheet
Technical Writing Fact Sheet | Source

Technical Writing, Two Types

There are two types of technical writing: Procedural and Narrative.


Procedural Writing

Procedural writing is writing step-by-step procedures on how to operate or control something. It is organized into a series of actions and results expected as result of the action. The table below is an example of a procedure, with action and response. Click on the table to enlarge it.

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing is used to write anything other than procedures. This includes theory of operation where the reader is told how a particular things works or what a process involves. It may include block diagrams and/or flow charts.

What Skills are Needed?

Obviously a technical writer needs technical skills and writing skills, including an excellent command of English and grammar. Technical writers are employed in many fields including computers, aviation, science, chemistry, and petroleum. It really is any field that requires documenting of processes and procedures. Technical writing is not only a creative process, but also an analytical process.

Part of the writing process involves interviewing subject matter experts (SME) for information. This might include design engineers, field engineers, marketing specialist, field trainers, or anybody that possess the knowledge that is needed to perform the job. So a technical writer needs enough of a technical background to feel comfortable with the SME they are interviewing.

They must have a working knowledge of various publications and graphics software.

The Technical Writing Process

Below is a flow diagram that shows the technical writing process in a simplified form. The following paragraphs describe each of the stages.

Determine the Comprehension Level of the Audience

After getting assigned a project, it is necessary to determine the comprehension level of the audience you are writing to. For example, if you are writing a programming users manual, you want to make sure that your audience has the prerequisites for understanding that programming language.

Mission Statement

You should always have a mission statement that is consistent with what the project objectives are. A good way to write one is: This document is being written so who can do what. Then you fill in the who and what. For example, I'm writing this article so that those curious about technical writing will have a better understanding of what it's about after reading this article.

Research and Analysis

You will always have to perform some type of research and analysis to establish a learning curve about the project. Sometimes struggling with the learning is good, because then you will appreciate it from the lowest level of understanding. This can sometimes help in reaching the best level of presentation. Research and analysis prepares you for the next step which is interviewing SME's.

Interview the SME's

Interviewing the Subject Matter Expert. This can be a daunting experience depending on your knowledge of the project and how willing the SME is to providing the information that you need. The best thing you can do is earn the respect of the SME by what ever means it takes.

Write Draft In Accordance with Standards or Specifications

Many companies have standards or specifications for writing and publishing documents. This is so they can specify formatting and style standards and also requirements required by the project.

SME Reviews the Draft

After producing the first draft, it should be reviewed by subject matter experts for technical accuracy. Some companies even have editors that will check for proper use of the language and adherence to standards.

Incorporate Changes

In most cases there will always be changes. Technical writers are always writing to schedules and in most companies products change as they they are getting ready to be manufactured or released. So you can count on many iterations of revisions.

Produce the Document and Send to Printer

Finally after everybody is happy with all the revisions, the document can be produced. This may involve coordination with the graphics department to get artwork finalized and other departments to determine the quantity and distribution. After it is all done, it can be sent to the printer and if required copied to disks for further distribution.

Types of Documents

The following is a list of the more common types of documents that are produced by technical writers.

  • Installation and Operation Manuals. That tell a user how to install a product and how to operate it.
  • Quick Reference Guides - Provide abbreviated instruction for a process or operation
  • Theory of Operation - Tells how something works, may include block diagrams and/or flow charts
  • Maintenance Manuals - Tell how to troubleshoot and repair a product, may include troubleshooting flow charts.
  • Illustrated Parts Breakdowns - Show exploded view of the product and parts numbers for ordering replacement and/or spare parts
  • User Manuals - How to program a system or device.
  • Policy and Procedures - Provide rules and regulations for departments and/or companies
  • Marketing, brochures and flyer's - Used to promote a product


Conclusion

I hope this has helped you in gaining some insight into what technical writing is about. Here is a link to an agency (ProEdit) that places technical writers in jobs across the country and a link to the Society of Technical Communications.

If you are interested in writing online and earning money

Click on this link to sign-up for Hub Pages, an online publishing site where your articles can earn money.

http://hubpages_signup/user/new/

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    • biancaalice profile image

      biancaalice 5 years ago from Southern California

      Great read and informative!

      Voted up and useful!

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Thanks for the comments. I appreciate it.

    • Edgar Arkham profile image

      Edgar Arkham 5 years ago from Modesto, CA

      Ah, technical writing, such lovely memories! Nothing beats being the last person to know what's going on and the first person who need to produce something!

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Boy, you got that right. But if we can do it, that makes us great. Who did you work for as a tech writer?

    • Edgar Arkham profile image

      Edgar Arkham 5 years ago from Modesto, CA

      It was a start-up company in San Jose that didn't last more than a year called StarVox. Whenever I told people, they kept thinking I worked for Starbucks!

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      That's funny!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      A great synopsis of technical writing skills. Any technical writer/communicator who wants to advance his career could take the information you offer here to revise and strengthen his resume in the areas of proficiencies and accomplishments. Up, useful, interesting.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Thank you so much Sally. That was my objective to give some insight to people who are thinking about becoming technical writers. I think this would help them even in an interview.

    • Electro-Denizen profile image

      Electro-Denizen 5 years ago from Wales, UK

      You could have given Microsoft some clues I think, instead of help files which basically say 'you have a problem', and then re-state it in a different way.

      Since the beginning of the home computer, I have categorically NEVER found anything remotely useful in Microsoft help files, no matter the area or subject. Help files which are self-referring in an endless loop.

      At least open source software and operating systems understand the end user better and what most people are trying to achieve and are written from that perspective.

      Interesting hub - it brings me back to my software engineering studies, where we looked at SSADM (structured systems analysis design and methodology). I never really got the hang of it, so hats off to your line of work.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Well thank you for that. When it comes to programmers writing help files, I found that they have a difficult time putting themselves in the place of the actual user. You can thank the endless loops to too many hyperlinks that are not very well placed.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 5 years ago from USA

      I've seen ads in writing magazines about getting involved with technical writing and have wondered what was involved. Thanks for the information!

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 5 years ago from Placentia California

      Eric, you are welcome.

    • vickykhobragade profile image

      vickykhobragade 4 years ago from India

      Recently i Wrote one hub on Technical writing http://vickykhobragade.hubpages.com/hub/Technical-...

      Its also help reader to know more about technical writing

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 4 years ago from Placentia California

      I read your hub page...nice work. Perhaps we can link the two hubs together with a referral tracker, so we can both earn some additional income when visited. Here is my hub page on referral trackers: https://hubpages.com/community/Referral-Trackers-W... Thanks for dropping by

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 4 years ago

      I have considered technical writing as a side line since retiring from teaching. This is informative and gives me some direction.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 4 years ago from Placentia California

      Stacie L: I'm glad I could help. If you need more information, please contact via my profile. Have a good day.

    • profile image

      coolineo 4 years ago from Pune

      Good tips. If someone is working in agile technical writing environment, they can follow http://www.agiledocs.com/blog/

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 4 years ago from Placentia California

      coolineo: Are you part of agile? and can I put a link in agile to my article? I looked at your profile and you have been with hub pages for three years, but have never published an article! Are you currently a technical writer? Sorry for all the questions, but your link to agile has piqued my curiosity. Thanks for reading my article.

    • LiamBean profile image

      LiamBean 4 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

      Holy Smoke! I wish I'd read this years ago. You manage to pack an enormous amount information into the fewest required words. I am gobsmacked in admiration.

      Bookmarked for safekeeping.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 4 years ago from Placentia California

      LiamBean: Thank you so much. I'm honored that you find it informative. It's just 30 years of experience as a technical writer and 10 years of experience as an online course developer! Thanks for dropping by.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 4 years ago from Placentia California

      thomas30: I'm glad I could help. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      VivaLaVina 4 years ago

      Oh, now I understand what Technical Writing is about. It took me long enough to get to know about it even with the help from the information I found all over the internet. Thanks a bunch! I love HubPages!

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 4 years ago from Placentia California

      VivaLaVina: You are so welcome. I'm glad I could help. Thanks for stopping by.

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