Saturday, August 1, 2009

Technical Writing Primer

What is Technical Writing?

Technical Writing, is a form of writing that is used in many diverse fields to explain technology and related ideas to technical as well as non technical audiences. Technical Writers are involved in the creation of various different types of documents that are used in many different fields from computer software and hardware to consumer electronics and biotechnology.

Every profession has a specific way of writing that it follows. Most white collared professionals generate documents relevant to their specific fields. The lawyers, policemen, social workers to the software programmers and instructional designers all follow their own unique modes of writing. Technical writers are generally involved with creating documents for and about technology.

Typically, Technical Writers gather information from the Subject Matter Experts – SMEs and existing documentation on the subject. This information is then reproduced depending on the audience and its requirements by the Technical Writer. This is one reason why it is important for anyone in the field of Technical Writing to possess strong language and teaching skills.

Technical Writing aims to provide information to people in a clear, concise and directmanner. In general, Technical Writing is considered to be dull as compared to other forms of writing because of all the constraints it has to put up with. But, inspite of this, a good Technical Writer is expected to come up with ways to engage the audience. Technical Writing should not leave any room for imagination besides anticipating and answering any questions or problems that arise.

What do Technical Writers do?

Beyond the technicalities of the work of a Technical Writer, I will try and provide you a brief overview of what is a typical Technical Writing job.

1. Audience Analysis
All forms of write ups depend on the audience at which they are aimed. A technical writer starts with Audience Analysis and tries to understand who he is writing for.

2. Information Assimilation
A technical writer assimilates information from Subject Matter Experts-SMEs, existing documentation and even from the code he or she is expected to write about.

3. Delivery
Finally, the technical writer will prepare the product for delivery based on the type of documentation eg. Product Manual, User Guide, Online Help etc., that he is expected to produce.

What are the characteristics required to be a good Technical Writer?

Now, that we know what a Technical Writer does, the answer to this is simpler.

1. Curiosity

A curious writer will try and understand a subject better than any other. Curiosity is what Technical Writers thrive on.

2. Learning Ability
If you are curious, you will know and if you know, you are bound to learn.

3. Teaching Ability
Being able to express one self in the most simplistic terms is the hallmark of a good teacher. And this is what produces great Technical Writing too. A good technical write up is one which is understood by being read only once.

4. Eye for Detail
A Technical Writer must understand punctuation, style and syntax and use this to highlight and present the documentation prepared.

Some Links for More information on Technical Writing:

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