A technical writer is a professional writer who designs, writes, creates, maintains, and updates technical
documentation—including online help, user guides, white papers, design specifications, system manuals, and other documents. Engineers, scientists, and other professionals may also produce technical writing, sometimes handing their work to a professional technical writer for editing and formatting, however the primary responsibility of a technical writer is to write technical documentation on behalf of the technical community.
The work of technical writers includes any technical subject requiring explanation to a particular audience. Technical writers are usually not Subject Matter Experts (SME) however they are able to interview and obtain the information necessary from SMEs, to gain the understanding necessary to produce accurate and comprehensive technical documentation. Companies, governments and other institutions hire technical writers not for their expertise in a particular subject, but for their expertise in
technical writing, i.e. in gathering information, analyzing the subject and the audience, and then writing clear documentation regarding the subject matter.
The technical writer's primary responsibility is to gather information and produce documentation tailored to a particular audience. A good technical writer creates documentation that is accurate, complete, unambiguous and as concise as possible. Technical writers communicate in many ways: printed documentation, web-based or other electronic documentation, training materials, and industrial film scripts.
Technical writers normally possess a mix of technical and language abilities. They may have a degree or certification in technical communications. Many technical writers switch from another technical field such as engineering or science, often after taking classes in technical communications.
A good technical writer has the ability to create, assimilate and convey technical material in a concise and effective manner. A technical writer may specialize in a technical area in which they have acquired expertise. For example, some writers mostly work on API documents, while others only work on medical or environmental material.
Technical writers work under many job titles, such as Technical Communicator, Information Developers, Data Development Engineer, or Technical Documentation Specialists. In the
United Kingdomand some other countries, a technical writer is often called a technical author or knowledge author.
When writing a document, a technical writer gathers information by studying existing material and interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs). The technical writer also studies the audience to learn their needs and technical level.
Well-formed technical documents follow common publishing guidelines. Technical documentation comes in all styles and formats, depending on the medium. Printed documentation has different standards than online documentation. Usually, technical writers follow formatting conventions described in a standard style guide. In the US, most technical writers use
the Chicago Manual of Style(CMS). Many companies have their own corporate style guides, typically extensions of the CMS to cover specific corporate issues. One of these, the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publicationsis even used by some other companies.
Engineering projects, particularly defense or aerospace related projects, often follow national and international documentation standards—such as ATA100 for civil aircraft, or S1000D for defense platforms.
Technical writers often work as part of a writing or project development team. In most cases, after the writer finishes a draft of the documentation, one or more SMEs review it for accuracy and completeness. This is sometimes referred to as 'peer review' or 'verification'. In some cases the writer or others test the document on audience members.
The role of the technical writer in the project teams, is to develop the overall project documentation, as other members of the team develop other areas of the project. For example, as a member of a project development team, as engineers designs and integrate a system, the technical writer generates the manuals that go with the system.
Technical communication tools
* [http://www.techwr-l.com/techwhirl/index.php3 TECHWR-L, The Internet Forum for Technical Communication]
* [http://www.thecontentwrangler.com The Content Wrangler, The Online Community for Technical Communicators and Other Content Creators (currently 17,500+ members)]
* [http://www.nwu.org/nwu/ NWU] National Writers Union (United States)
* [http://ewh.ieee.org/soc/pcs/ PCS] Professional Communication Society
* [http://www.stc.org STC] Society for Technical Communication
* [http://www.tekom.de Tekom] (pages available in English) Professional organization for technical communication, Germany
* [http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Technical_writing Wikiversity Technical Writing course]
* [http://www.ditausers.org DITA Users] - a member organization helping tech writers get started with topic-based
* [http://www.freewritingadvice.com/articles/index_files/65techauthor.htm What Does the Technical Writer Have to Offer?]
* [http://elephant.org.il Elephant] (pages available in English) Professional organization for Technical Writers, Israel
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