What is technical writing?

Oct. 9, 2019

From time to time, people ask me about technical writing and the type of work I do. As not much is known about technical writing outside of the English-speaking world, I came up with a short answer. I hope you’ll find it useful.

What is technical writing?

You may not be aware of it, but you are surrounded by technical writing.

Consider the quick guide of your washing machine, the assembly instructions of that IKEA chair you bought, or the information leaflet of the last prescription drug you’ve taken. Press F1 in any Windows application, or click Help in your favorite website. Open the glovebox of your car and browse the owner’s manual, or simply read the warnings under the hood.

All the above are technical documents authored by technical writers, who are specialized in taking complex—and often unstructured—information and producing documents that allow people to accomplish tasks or goals, like using a piece of software, taking a medicine, or driving a car. Technical documentation enables people to use products properly.

Technical writing, which is a subset of technical communication (TC), strives for clarity, accuracy, conciseness, and coherence, so that the intended audience can consume documentation easily and fast. There’s no place for poetry in TC: technical writers use simple language and short sentences, getting rid of jargon and literary expressions.

What can you do as a technical writer?

As a technical writer, I act as a bridge between tech and clients. Think of me as some sort of translator of all things technical. Among other things, I can…

Want to know more about what being a tech writer is like? Read Tom Johnson’s Could you please tell me what the job of a technical writer is like?