Technical writing, a form of
technical communication, is a style of formal writing, used in fields as diverse as computer hardwareand software, chemistry, the aerospace industry, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, and biotechnology.
Good technical writing clarifies technical jargon; that is, it presents useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience. Poor technical writing, on the other hand, often creates unnecessary technical jargon, and sows seeds of confusion and misunderstanding in the readers' minds.
Technical writers often labour under titles that include phrases like "Information Development", "Technical Documentation", or "Technical Publications". For example, in some organizations, Technical Writers may be called Information Developers, Documentation Specialists, Documentation Engineers, or Technical Content Developers. Technical writers explain complex ideas to technical and nontechnical audiences. This could mean telling a programmer how to use a software library, or telling a consumer how to operate a television remote control.
Technical writers gather information from existing documentation, and from subject matter experts. A subject matter expert (SME) is any expert on the topic the writer is working on. Technical writers usually are not SMEs themselves—unless they're writing about creating good technical documentation. Workers at many levels, and in many different fields, have a role in producing and distributing technical communications. A good technical writer needs strong language skills, and must understand the highly evolved conventions of modern technical communications. For technical documents to be useful, readers must understand and act on them without having to decode wordy and ambiguous prose.
A sample case history
Consider a technical writer writing a cake recipe:
* Audience: Is the audience people in home kitchens, or highly trained chefs in professional kitchens?
* Source: Is there existing documentation—a rough draft? Who is the subject matter expert (SME)?
* Deliverable: Is the deliverable simple text for inclusion in a book, or formatted to final form? Is the target a paper, a Web page, or something else?
The technical writer determines that the recipe is written down on the back of a napkin but is partially indecipherable, so he must also interview an SME—the chef who created it. The audience turns out to be people in their own kitchens, so the writer must adjust the style accordingly and replace or explain words in the source material like "beurre mixer" or "springform pan." The chef reviews a draft of the recipe (a "technical edit") and marks in needed technical corrections ("bake at 350 degrees", not "325 degrees"). The writer prepares a final draft and the document goes into English edit to ensure that all instructions are grammatically correct. The chef and any other stakeholders perform a final review and approve the recipe and it's off to the printer or website.
The origins of technical writing have been variously attributed to Ancient Greece, the Renaissance, and the mid-19th century. However, a clear trend towards the discipline can be seen from the First World War on, growing out of the need for technology-based documentation in the military, manufacturing, electronics, and aerospace industries. In 1953, two organizations concerned with improving the practice of technical communication were founded on the East Coast: the Society of Technical Writers, and the Association of Technical Writers and Editors. These organizations merged in 1957 to form the Society of Technical Writers and Editors, a predecessor of the current Society for Technical Communication (STC).
Communicating with the audience
Technical writing is communication to convey a particular piece of information to a particular audience for a particular purpose. It is often exposition about scientific subjects and technical subjects associated with sciences.
Technical writing translates complex technical concepts into simple language to enable a specific user or set of users to perform a specific task in a specific way. (Thus, audience analysis is a key feature of all technical writing.) Quality technical writing usually requires someone specifically trained as a
technical writer. Effective communication requires the skills to produce quality content, language, format, and more. To present appropriate content, writers must understand the audience and purpose.
The career ladder that a Technical Writer is faced with typically has few levels. A technical writer could grow into a Senior Technical Writer handling more complex projects or a small team. The next step up could be a Documentation Manager handling multiple projects and teams. A few Technical Writers gain expertise in a specific technical domain and branch out into related fields like Software Quality or Business Analysis.
Technical writing is most often associated with
online Helpand user manuals; however, there are other forms of technical content created by technical writers, including:
*Alarm clearing procedures
*Application programming interface programmers' guides
*Certification and accreditation activities
*Corporate Annual Reports
*Feature Design documentation
*Getting Started cards or guides
*Maintenance and repair procedures
*Industrial film or video scripts
*Network administrators' guides
*Network configuration guides
*Network recovery guides
Policies and procedures
*Site preparation guides
* [http://ewh.ieee.org/soc/pcs/?q=node/24 IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication]
* [http://www.stc.org/pubs/techcommGeneral01.asp Technical Communication: Journal of the Society for Technical Communication]
* [http://ewh.ieee.org/soc/pcs/ IEEE Professional Communication Society]
Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators(UK-based)
* [http://www.intecom.org International Council for Technical Communication]
Society for Technical Communication
Technical Communicator's Association of New Zealand(NZ-based)
Usability Professional's Association of New Zealand(NZ-based)
* [http://www.tekom.de Tekom] (pages available in English) Professional organization for technical communication, Germany
* [http://elephant.org.il Elephant] (pages available in English) Professional organization for Technical Writers, Israel
* [http://ewh.ieee.org/soc/pcs/index.php?q=node/191 Technical Communicator's Glossary]
* [http://www.cherryleaf.com/news_and_information.htm Articles on trends in technical writing]
* [http://tc.eserver.org/ EServer Technical Communication (and Technical Writing) Library]
* [http://www.istc.org.uk/ Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, The professional body for UK Technical Authors]
* [http://www.keycontent.org/ KeyContent.org]
* [http://www.techwr-l.com/techwhirl/index.php3 TECHWR-L, The Internet Forum for Technical Communication]
* [http://www.twin-india.org TWIN - Technical Writers of India]
* [http://www.attw.org/ The Association of Teachers of Technical Writing]
* [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MITWA/ MITWA · Mentors, Indexers, Tech Writers & Associates]
* [http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Technical_writing Free Wikiversity Technical Writing Courses]
* [http://www.docsymmetry.com/ Docsymmetry]
* [http://www.techwriters.com/breaking.php Free online guide to breaking into Technical Writing as a career]
* [http://tc.eserver.org/ EServer Technical Communication (and Technical Writing) Library]
* [http://www.fchcomm.com/whatis.html FCH Communications: What is Technical Writing?]
* [http://tcanz.org.nz/ Technical Communicator's Association of New Zealand]
* [http://www.cherryleaf.com/article_death.htm The Death of the Technical Author?]
* [http://www.williamrice.com/techcomm/writing_user_manuals.html Writing User Manuals from the Middle Out]
* [http://upa.org.nz/ Usability Professional's Association of New Zealand]
* [http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bestjobs/snapshots/13.html Money Magazine ranks Technical Writing as 13th best job in America]
* [http://www.keycontent.org Keycontent.org: Online community devoted to discussion of content development, technical communication, and related disciplines]
* [http://www.ditausers.org DITA Users] - a member organization helping people get started with topic-based
* [http://www.pibusinessresearch.com/technical_content_writing.aspx Different section where technical writing is needed]
* [http://www.techtact.org TechTact.org] Technical and Tactful writing
* [http://www.freewritingadvice.com/articles/index_files/65techauthor.htm What does the Technical Writer have to offer?]
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