Archive for 'technical writer'

Is Technical Communications a Good Career Option?

A career in technical communications involves researching and creating information about a specific service or product. The information is then relayed to the intended audience via several different media sources. The media sources that technical communicators use include paper, video and the Internet.

The types of information that technical communicators produce include, technical manuals, specifications online help, data sheets, user guides, procedures manuals, technical reports, etc.

The essence of good technical communication is to provide understandable information that will not only promote the service or product but that it can be easily understood by the intended audience. It is paramount that the technical communicator (i.e. technical writer) provides accurate information, on time and within budget to the end user.

It is essential that the technical communicator has specific qualities to help in this process.

Essential Qualities of Technical Communicators

technical communicationA technical communicator must have, analytical, logical and be very creative in their specific field of technical communication. They must have the potential to analyse and understand the technical terminology of the specific field they are in. This gives them the ability to implement the specific creativity needed to communicate the desired information.

They should also have a good command of the language they are creating their information in so that they can easily implement their terms that the end user can easily understand.

As new communications technology appears for the technical communicator to use then they must be aware of these changes even if it means having to retrain to keep ahead of the changes. The changes to their communications tools and media will only be good for both the technical communicator and the end user.

A good technical communicator will not only be able to produce good quality information they also must be able to integrate into their working environment and be able to take on any difficult assignments they are given with the minimal amount of stress.

They must be sure that the work they have been given is not beyond their capabilities because the consequence of producing information that is incorrect can be very embarrassing for the technical communicator and the company they are working for.

Job Opportunities for Technical Communicators

Due to the technology available today technical communications has become one of biggest growth areas for any looking for a career. There are a lot of varied areas within business and technology where the demand for technical communicators is very high. The following list gives some of the careers available:

  • Technical writer
  • Technical editor
  • Technical illustrator
  • User Interface designer
  • Information architect
  • Technical translator
  • Technical trainer
  • API writer
  • Usability expert
  • User experience designers
  • Graphics designers, etc

If you have the correct educational background along with some practical exposure in the field you are interested in then you can expect to have a very good career in technical communications.

Technical Writer – Don’t Take Criticism Personally

As a technical writer there is every chance that you will be criticised for the work you have done. Learning to deal with the criticism is the important part a technical writer has to understand. Once you come to terms with criticism and accept it with the professionalism you used to create the technical documentation and then use it to improve what you have written is the best thing you can do.

By learning to work with your critics is one of the best skills that a technical writer can possess because it will go a long way to helping your technical writing career flourish.

The majority of editors are exceptionally professional in their job and will provide the kind of changes and suggestions that will enhance your documentation. A good editor is one that will put the intended audience first and their only intention is to work hand-in-hand with the technical writer to create the best result possible.

technical writerAs the technical writer is the person who wrote the words that are being rightly criticised, you will need a fresh pair of eyes to review the document. The document is your creation and you can see nothing wrong with it, but, there is every possibility that because of your familiarity with the document you will miss the errors that the editor will pick up.

However, no two editors are the same. Some editors like to play the bad guy and dispense totally with any form of niceties. They prefer to tell it like it is even if it upsets the technical writer. All they are interested in is getting the job done right and do not care a hoot about the technical writer’s feelings.

The phrase, “don’ take it personally” is not very helpful for the technical writer to hear because it gives them the impression that they are being pacified and that they should just accept the criticism without being able to challenge the criticism.

This frequently used expression implies that anything the technical writer creates is just that and nothing else. Just because you created it doesn’t mean to say that it should have any emotionally hold over you. You have to distance yourself emotionally from what you have written and therefore allow yourself to accept any criticism of your work. Because your main aim is to get the job done as quickly and professionally as possible.

This sort of throw away remark is dangerous because it immediately it gives the impression that any resistance to criticism by the technical writer is just downright petulance and childishness.

With technical writing you tend to find that by overusing certain phrases gives the impression that the writer has of lack of imagination and their writing skills are poor. Therefore, when you hear the phrase, “don’t take it personally,” coming from an editor the conclusion is drawn that this type of remark comes from an editor whose editing skills leave a lot to be desired. The important thing for a technical writer is to not take the “don’t take it personally” line too seriously!

The Expanding Role of the Technical Writer

A technical writer is increasingly seeing his role expand with all the latest technology available today. The majority of these new products are a result of the growth of the internet. A technical writer who can keep up-to-speed with all this new technology will give them a significant advantage over other technical writers.

Online Communications

There are several major reasons why major companies are using the internet for their online communications and technical documentation instead of traditional marketing methods.

Low costs – it is a lot cheaper professional looking website and direct traffic to it.

technical writerWider reach – the internet has no boundaries. It has created a global marketplace that allows companies to tap into a multitude of buyers. This global audience will online get bigger and bigger when the Eastern countries (India, China, etc) come more online.

Unlimited space – a traditional company is physically restricted by the amount of storage space they have. With the internet there are limitations. One web site can display thousands of products at virtually no cost at all.

Constant contact – the advent of emails has slashed the cost of communicating with customers to virtually nothing. Just think what it used to cost for printing and mailing all the business related information in the past.

Online documentation – Using the internet is not just limited to marketing a company’s products and services. Online documentation saves companies a vast amount of money because it has done away with the printing and distribution costs for all their technical documentation. Plus it cuts down on the use of paper consequently saving trees and creating a greener environment.

Technical writers need to know about these benefits and they can exploit them for their own benefit as well. It is good to let prospective employers or clients know how you feel about these issues because it will create an impression that you care how you can help their businesses and increase your credibility as a technical writer.

The New Components of Technical Writing

The role of a technical writer has expanded to include the following:

  • Email Marketing
  • Online Surveys
  • Websites that could include landing pages, sales pages and auto responders
  • Ezine Newsletters
  • Blogs
  • Online Forums
  • Online Product Descriptions
  • Online Catalogues and Brochures
  • Social Media Administration (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc)
  • Article Writing.

Most of these require the technical writer to use their technical writing skills to create the information required. The good thing for a technical writer is that by adding this form of communication skills to their profile they are not only increasing their income, but they are giving the employer or client a complete one top shop for all their documentation needs. If a technical writer adds all these skills to their arsenal they will be increasing their value as a technical writer.

If you have the ability research the information you need and can combine this ability with an ability to write clear and concise documentation then you will find that technical writing will be a very rewarding profession.

Is It Easy to Become a Technical Writer?

It is always difficult trying to establish a new career especially when you don’t know whether you have the skill set required for the profession.

This is often the case with the technical writing profession, especially with aspiring writers who want to become a technical writer but have no previous experience in the industries and businesses where technical writers are employed.

One of the big drawbacks for any writer trying to break into the technical writing profession is that they cannot produce any examples of previous technical writing. A lot of employers ask to see if you have a portfolio of examples.

technical writerHowever, this is not something to worry too much about because it is not as difficult as it may at first seem to become a technical writer.

If you have any form of writing experience then this will go a long way in helping you break into the technical writing profession.

A great way to enhance your chances of getting a job as a technical writer is to enrol into a technical writing course. There are several very good online courses available that will help you get an appreciation for technical writing. Technical writing is not career that requires extensive study and preparation (unless you decide to take a degree course).

Irrespective of how many courses you undertake the most important thing for a technical writer is to choose a field where technical writers are employed in which you have some sort of knowledge or experience. This is a great asset because you have a background in the language and terminology that you will find necessary to write the technical documentation for the company you have approached.

A great way of opening the door to a career in technical writing is if you know somebody who is already employed in the profession. They will be able to give you some advice on how to go about applying for positions within the profession. They might even be able to recommend you to their company or even give you reference for any other positions and companies you apply to. Never underestimate the value of contacts and insiders in your search for a role within the technical writing profession.

Technical writing is a specialised field of work and maybe a profession that you didn’t originally intended to pursue, but it is not as difficult to become a technical writer as you first thought. There are a wide variety of opportunities within the technical writing profession and there is every possibility that you could be employed as a technical writer far sooner than you think.

If you work on your writing and grammar skills and can offer a portfolio with examples of your work, perseverance can help you in pursuing your goal to become a technical writer.

Does a Technical Writer Need a Technical Background?

A technical writer needing a technical background is a very emotive topic of conversation depending on the specific industry that the technical writer is working in.

The technical writing profession encompasses a wide range of job descriptions. Therefore, you will find that the majority of technical writers possess a broad range of technical skills and knowledge requirements. This then equates to the less technical the subject, product or service they are writing about, the less stringent the technical knowledge they need.

You tend to find that technical writers that produce end-user documentation and online help do not need an in depth knowledge of programming, although knowledge of the field in which the product is to be used is required.

technical writerTherefore, the definition of “technical” may vary depending on the subject, product or service and more specifically the intended audience.

On the other hand, the more complex and technical the content will require that the technical writer has deep understanding of the subject matter. The technical writer must have some idea of the technology if they are writing original content about a technology. If you are writing technical information about another person’s work, then you can get by with good communication skills with a person that understands the details of the subject.

More often than not an employer will employ a technical writer that has a technical background than one that does not. The employers I have dealt with are very specific about a technical background because they want to ensure that the technical writer has a deep knowledge of their industry. Also it gives the employer the confidence of knowing that the documentation the technical writer produces will meet the criteria they need.

I believe it is a great plus to have a technical knowledge of the subject you will be writing about because there are times when you have little background information to work from. You may be an excellent writer, but it is a great advantage to be able to understand what you are writing about. It gives you the confidence of knowing that the documentation you produce will communicate the information more effectively to the end user.

With all technical writing the technical writer requires too have a good rapport with the relevant subject matter expert. The technical writer will need their expert advice and knowledge on what they have written and also they will need them to validate what they have written. This is where a good technical knowledge will help when discussing the content with the subject matter expert.

Throughout my technical writing career I have worked with technical writers who did not have particularly strong technical backgrounds. They found it difficult to create original content and they relied on cut and pasting information from other sources. Basically, they were just editing existing content.

But on the other hand, I have worked with technical writers who had strong technical backgrounds but they could not create useful documentation because they were not effective communicators. They clearly understood the subject matter, but they were unable to convey how it worked or how to use it.

However, it is more important that an effective technical writer has strong writing/communication skills and a deep interest about the subject matter and the audience. These qualities will make it a lot easier for a not very to perform their job.

What Is Technical Writing?

If you are a writer and you are looking for a career in writing but are not sure what area of writing are most appropriate for your skills. The question: “what is technical writing” springs to mind every time you see a job vacancy for a technical writing position. As it is quite possible that you have never heard of technical writing you begin to wonder if you would even been qualified to pursue it as a career.

If you start to think about the phrase “technical writing” I think you will realise it is exactly what is says it is. It doesn’t need a complex description to explain what it is because it is basically writing technical information.

technical writingTechnical writing is a form of technical communication. It is a style of writing that is used in every field of industry, commerce and business. It is used in such fields as the aerospace industry, financial services, engineering, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and even government offices. That is just a small variety of areas where technical documentation can be found.

Basically, if there is a need for any form of technical communication then you will find that technical writing will play some part in delivering the information to the intended audience. Technical writing is the means of communicating any form of technology to both technical and non technical audiences.

Let’s say a domestic appliance manufacturer has a new dishwasher they are about to bring to the market. That dishwasher will need some form of user guide to explain how to use it. That is where technical writing comes in to the equation. A technical writer or technical author (as some prefer to be known) will determine what the intended audience will need to understand how to use the dishwasher. The technical writer will then develop the user guide based on their research of the intended audience’s needs. That is just an example of one of many applications where technical writing can be used to communicate technical information.

Technical writing is an excellent career for anybody that has the necessary qualifications and technical knowledge for the specific products or services. To be able to successfully write technical documentation you will not only need to possess good writing and grammar skills but also some technical knowledge of the products or services so that you can write intelligently about the subject.

Most employers tend to look for technical writers who have at least some form of academic qualification in the discipline that they want the technical writer to write about.

More often than not you tend to find that if as a technical writer you at least have knowledge and technical understanding of the technology field you are interested in then you can forge a great career in technical writing for yourself.

Technical writing can involve producing various types of documents for a single product. These documents can vary from a user guide, technical specification, operating manual, maintenance manual, troubleshooting guide or even all of the mentioned.

You do not have to understand the subject of the technical documents because technical writing requires that you be able to decipher and use the terms that arise in the everyday usage of the products or services with your industry.

Although technical writing does not require an intimate knowledge of every function of every item you write about, it does mean that you will need to have some experience in the field you are writing about.

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Technical Communication

This website has been created to keep anybody that is interested in Technical Communications up-to-date with what I believe to be most relevant topics a Technical Writer or Technical Author (as some prefer to be known as) needs to be aware of.

Technical communication refers to any kind of technical documentation whether it is user guides, maintenance/operating manuals, technical specifications, style guides, diagrams, illustrations, reference guides, on-screen help, interface text, or any other form of content that communicates technical principles and concepts in an easy-to-understand way.

It is difficult to determine one single definition of Technical Communications because it extends into so many different areas of technology and media presentation. It also brings together different forms of creativity, writing, artwork, video and numerous other ways of displaying the information.

technical communicationBasically, you can think of it as telling the intended audience how to do things, and relying on the communication method to manage the process and any changes that are necessary. The information is communicated via numerous tools that are available to the technical writer, and the great thing about it all is that as a technical writer you are actually getting paid to write.

To be a good technical communicator you have to be creative because you have to take into account the different audiences that are going to use your information. Also you must have an appreciation of the different types of media you will use to get your message across. You have to convey your information in a way that will that will not only inform and engage your intended audience but will make it easier for them to understand.

Commerce, science and technology play a big part in the everyday principles of technical communication. Each of these major areas of industry has a need for technical communicators. In fact there are many areas within these businesses where technical writers play a major role in developing not only the technical documentation for these organisations but also their business documentation and development plans as well.

It is very important that the technical communicator understands the processes and procedures that the company he is working for. It is no good for the company’s image if the person who is writing their documentation doesn’t understand what the company’s products or processes are. That is why the majority of majority of these companies require that the technical communicator has some for qualifications in the discipline that whey will be writing about.

History of Technical Communications

There are different schools of thought as to the origin of technical communications. Some say it started as far back as Ancient Greece, the Renaissance period or even the mid 20th Century. However, there was a noticeable increase towards use of technical documentation by certain military, aerospace and electronics companies following the First World War.

What is more qualified than the theory in the previous paragraph is that in 1953 in the United States two organisations (the Society of Technical Writers, and the Association of Technical Writers and Editors) were formed to improve the quality and practice of technical communication. In 1957 these two organisations merged to form the Society of Technical Writers and Editors, a predecessor of the current Society for Technical Communication (STC).

Whilst, in the United Kingdom the amalgamation of three existing associations (the Presentation of Technical Information Group, the Technical Publications Association and the Institute of Technical Publicity and Publications) created the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC).

What do Technical Communicators do?

The majority of people believe that technical communicators are just writers that create technical manuals (i.e. maintenance manuals, user guides etc,). Today, that theory is so far from reality because times have changed dramatically, and I have to say, for the better! Today’s technical communicator creates their information for a wide range of businesses, products, processes by using a wide range of media applications.

technical communicatorDepending on the industry that a technical communicator is working in will determine what type of information that will produce. It will not just be technical manuals, it could be business reports, white papers, style guides, content management intranets, websites, software programs and they might also be involved in the testing procedures for the company’s products or software.

The types of jobs available within the technical communications industry are documentation manager, technical writer, online help developer, web creator/designer, information developer, etc.

Technical communicators are in high demand and can be found working in a wide variety of commercial and engineering establishments. You tend to find that certain geographical areas tend to specialise in particular areas. Technical communicators can be found working for financial and insurance institutions, engineering companies, telecommunications, pharmaceutical companies, local and national government departments, defence organisations, etc.

Technical communication is classed as a professional task that allows businesses the opportunity to either employ skilled personnel, or outsource their needs to the relevant technical communication companies.

The process of creating information products or processes in technical communication begins with technical communicator determining who the eventual audience will be and clearly identifying the information they need. The next step is for the technical communicator to research the amount of content needed and to build a structured framework for the information.

The way most technical documentation is created can be categorised under the heading of the ‘Writing Process’. This has been a central focus of writing theory since the early 1970s, and many ways has been significantly applied to producing technical communications.

For a lot of employees technical communication is a very important part of their everyday working life. Most engineers, software developers, web designers, flight engineers and even pilots come into contact with technical communications in one form or another.

Technical communications allows the relevant information to be supplied in a concise manner and is very clear in its meaning if done correctly.

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