Career in IT: Technical Writer

Career in IT: Technical Writer


Let’s talk about the position of technical writer -- an intermediary between product developers and end users.

Technical writer is a specialist who writes technical documentation (user manuals for users, technical specifications for developers, etc.) for various programs and automated systems.

Tasks and Responsibilities

The main task of the Technical Writer is to competently create, illustrate and adapt product and technical documentation in an understandable language for the end user. The material may be for the needs of the team / project (internal) or for the client of the product (external).

The main responsibility of a technical writer’s position is to make the documentation readable.

The work of the technical writer may vary slightly depending on the task:

  • If the specialist is working on the “developer to client” material, then he or she studies the existing software, and writes instructions for the end user;

  • If the specialist is working on “client to developer” material, then the technical writer, together with the business analyst, assesses the needs of the client, and then conveys this to the developers in an understandable form of technical specifications. 

Technical writers are specialists who can explain technically complex things in a simple human language that is understandable to a specific audience. They know how to write, and at the same time they are well versed in engineering, and technology. 

Technical writers need to have in-depth knowledge in the field they write about, and be able to express the essence of the matter both concisely and rich with details. It is important to be able to work with illustrations -- to take and process screenshots, create comprehensible graphs, charts, diagrams. It is also desirable to have basic HTML skills, especially for working with FAQ and online knowledge databases. 

A technical writer’s responsibilities may include:

- Creation of user documentation, help systems;

- Creation of documentation for system administrators;

- Preparation of graphic schemes with the given parameters;

- Regular updating of existing documentation in accordance with software releases;

- Creation of training materials for new users.

Technical writer works not only with technical documentation, but also with other materials: editing or translating release notes, software requirements specifications, CVs, PowerPoint presentations, meeting minutes, user stories and even technical books, as well as recording video how-to tutorials. 

The main tools of a technical writer are the text editor, voice recorder, and, depending on the project, style manuals, Google docs, MS Word, Adobe FrameMaker (for creating offline materials), Adobe RoboHelp, MadCapFalre (for online documentation) and others.

First of all, technical writer finds out who is the subject matter expert of the assigned task, and conducts an interview with them -- to learn all the details about the new functionality. Then the writer analyzes, dissects the system into the simplest elements, and delivers the result to the end user in the form of documentation.

Most often writers work closely with software developers and product owners. The latter gives a general direction for the new products that should be included in the documentation, which materials should be used, and what general requirements for preparing documentation in accordance with the requirements should be observed. Developers help to understand the functionality of the new options. 

A typical working day of a Technical Writer includes:

  •  A comprehensive study of what should be included in the documentation in the future (if there is no product release yet);

  •  Creation of new documentation for discovered functionality;

  • Updating documentation.

Advantages and disadvantages

This position helps combines humanities with tech. This path is open for both linguists, who are interested in IT and “techies” who have good writing skills and don’t want to do software development. 

To be a tech writer, it is not enough to have writing skills. Documentation is a specific genre that has rigid structure, which needs to be internalized by the writer. The challenge of the job is in the restrictions in the means of expression. Technical documentation does not allow free phrasing. Everything is due to the standards of manual of style, even word order and sentence types. However, if creativity is not your thing and it’s easier for you to write within the framework of the rules, then the technical documentation is a good option for you. 

Another major drawback is the inability to influence the functionality of the software, the writer’s job only to describe the already existing functionality. Besides, not everyone understands the essence of the work of a technical writer. Some developers don’t consider writing documentation to be work at all, because they understand everything from the comments to the code. Writers report that developers often don’t have time for collaboration, although only an hour a week is enough for the technical writer. 

How to become a technical writer and where to go next

To become a technical writer in an IT company, you must be diligent, patient and attentive to details. To be able to work with the information received -- to lay out the architecture of multilevel systems; Quickly understand the technical aspects and describe them in a form suitable for understanding by a specific audience.

No less than systemic analytical thinking the communication skills are important. You need to be able to ask developers the right questions in order to thoroughly explore the capabilities of the software. 

As for professional knowledge, this specialty is not taught at universities, and therefore the future tech writers must master the profession on their own: reading Microsoft Manual of Style, studying the style of writing documentation for large technical companies, learning how present information in a correct and intelligible way. 

It is important to practice, Start with describing the functionality of MS Word and give it to some of your elder relatives to read. If they follow your instructions without any issues-- congratulations, you have what it takes to be a technical writer. 

The excellent knowledge of the language goes without saying. Basic knowledge of HTML, XML, CSS, SQL, an understanding of systems and software engineering will be a plus.

It’s worth getting acquainted with the main tools that technical writers use: Microsoft HTML Help Workshop, Help & Manual, RoboHELP, MadCapFalre, MadCap Software (development of electronic help), AuthorIT, DocBook / XML, DITA, SiberSafe (automation of documentation), Adobe FrameMaker, Microsoft Word, OpenOffice (preparation of technical publications), work with IDEF0, DFD and ER diagrams, UML.

Prospects for the career development of a technical writer:

  • Grow as a Technical Writer, develop niche specialization

  • Vertical growth: become the head of the technical writers division;

  • Re-qualify as a business analyst, tester or layout designer (if you are more interested in the technical side);

  • Move to the marketing or a PR department (if creativity is more attractive).

Most technical writers prefer to become business analysts. But there are examples of how former technical writers became successful project managers on very large projects.

13:39 Sunday, 6 October 2019


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