Technical writing bears a special place in the writing world. It requires a diligence and knowledge base that goes beyond a little research; even people who call themselves ‘technical writers’ many times end up taking confusing jargon and changing it to, well, more confusing jargon. Good technical writing requires the author to be neat, organized, and above all, concise.
In the beginning, technical writing primarily referred to writing about technology in the form of content like end-user manuals, white papers, system design documents, web sites, and similar materials for companies like engineering firms and IT companies. In the last few years, however, technical writing has evolved and drifted into many other fields such as finance, business, law, marketing, and more.
Like any type of writing, technical writing requires preparation. You have to identify your target audience and ask questions like: who is your reader? How well do they know the subject matter? Are there multiple audiences?
After you’ve assessed your audience, you need to ascertain your purpose. Why are you writing this document? What is your goal? What do you want your audience to know or be able to do when you’re done?
Researching a topic is essential before you write an article, report, or other material, and technical writing is no different. In fact, you could argue that technical writing requires more research than other types of writing because, in order to write about a technical subject, you need to know it well. Getting acquainted with completely new software, for example, can take hours of research. This is why a company might choose a field expert with no writing experience over a professional writer; they’re already intimate with the subject.
However, this isn’t always ideal. If an expert software engineer writes an instruction manual for a piece of software that’s going to be mass marketed, but the average consumer can’t understand the material, he’s lost his audience and a potential client.
Though some shy away from technical writing, it can be enjoyable. Writing about cutting-edge gadgets, new technologies, new software, evolutions in business and marketing, and any number of other topics can be both rewarding and intriguing.
If you’re interested in technical writing, do the (surprise!) research and find examples, tutorials, classes; whatever resources you can use. Practice translating highly technical jargon to ordinary language or take a technical writing course. Learn how to avoid the sinkholes and swamps of jargon and create truly concise, understandable writing that speaks clearly to its audience.