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A technical writer is a professional writer who engages in technical writing and produces technical documentation for technical, business, and consumer audiences. The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators defines the profession as preparing information that helps users who use the product. This documentation includes online help, user guides/manuals, white papers, design specifications, system manuals, project plans, test plans, business correspondence, etc. Technical writers create documentation in many forms, such as printed, web-based, or other electronic means.
Engineers, scientists, and other professionals may also produce technical writing, but often hand it off to a professional technical writer for developmental editing, proofreading, editing, and formatting.
In addition to solid research, language, writing, and revision skills, a technical writer may have skills in:
A technical writer may apply their skills in the production of non-technical content, for example, writing high-level consumer information. Usually, a technical writer is not a subject matter expert (SME), but interviews SMEs and conducts the research necessary to write and/or compile technically accurate content.
A proficient technical writer has the ability to create, assimilate, and convey technical material in a concise and effective manner. They may specialize in a particular area but must have a good understanding of the products they describe. For example, API writers primarily work on API documents, while other technical writers specialize in electronic commerce, manufacturing, scientific, or medical material.
Technical writers gather information from many sources. Their information sources are usually scattered throughout an organisation, which can range from developers to marketing departments.
Effectively Analyze the Rhetorical Situation Creating effective technical documentation is driven by the writer’s analysis of three elements that comprise the rhetorical situation of a particular project: audience, purpose, and context.
Document Design Technical writing can be a creative process. Document design is a component of technical writing that increases readability and usability. According to one expert, technical writers use six design strategies to plan and create technical communication: arrangement, emphasis, clarity, conciseness, tone, and ethos.
Technical writers can have various job titles, including technical communicator, information developer, or technical documentation specialist. In the United Kingdom and some other countries, a technical writer is often called a technical author or knowledge author.
Technical writers normally possess a mixture of technical and writing abilities. They typically have a degree or certification in a technical field, but may have one in journalism, business, or other fields. Many technical writers switch from another field, such as journalism—or a technical field such as engineering or science, often after learning important additional skills through technical communications classes.
To create a technical document, a technical writer must understand the product, purpose, and audience. They gather information by studying existing material, interviewing SMEs, and often actually using the product. They study the audience to learn their needs and technical understanding level.
A technical publication's development life cycle typically consists of five phases, coordinated with the overall product development plan:
The document development life cycle typically consists of six phases (This changes organization to organization, how they are following).
This is similar to the software development life cycle.
Well-written technical documents usually follow formal standards or guidelines. Technical documentation comes in many styles and formats, depending on the medium and subject area. Printed and online documentation may differ in various ways, but still adhere to largely identical guidelines for prose, information structure, and layout. Usually, technical writers follow formatting conventions described in a standard style guide. In the US, technical writers typically use the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). Many companies have internal corporate style guides that cover specific corporate issues such as logo use, branding, and other aspects of corporate style. The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications is typical of these.
Engineering projects, particularly defense or aerospace related projects, often follow national and international documentation standards—such as ATA100 for civil aircraft or S1000D for civil and defense platforms.
Technical writers often work as part of a writing or project development team. Typically, the writer finishes a draft and passes it to one or more SMEs who conduct a technical review to verify accuracy and completeness. Another writer or editor may perform an editorial review that checks conformance to styles, grammar, and readability. This person may request for clarification or make suggestions. In some cases the writer or others test the document on audience members to make usability improvements. A final production typically follows an inspection checklist to ensure the quality and uniformity of the published product.
There is not necessarily one standard career path for technical writers, but they may move into project management over other writers. A writer may advance to a senior technical writer position, handling complex projects or a small team of writers and editors. In larger groups, a documentation manager might handle multiple projects and teams.
Technical writers may also gain expertise in a particular technical domain and branch into related forms, such as software quality analysis or business analysis. A technical writer who becomes a subject matter expert in a field may transition from technical writing to work in that field.
Technical writers with expertise in writing skills can join printed media or electronic media companies, potentially providing an opportunity to make more money and/or improved working conditions.
The U.S Department of Labor expects technical writer employment to grow 17 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. They expect job opportunities, especially for applicants with technical skills, to be good.
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