Technical writing is a very broad term that can be applied to a number of writing types. In general, technical writers might be described as writers of manuals, although the practice is considerably broader than this. Technical writers are involved in the design and development of many products and their supporting documentation, such as:
- Installation guides
- Policy and procedure guides
- Multimedia development
- Operating instructions
- Reference manuals
- Documentation of product development and design
- Design of online information systems (such as Web sites or Help files)
- Business reports and presentations
This means that technical writers have to know their products inside out, and also be very familiar with the audience for whom they are writing. They often act as intermediaries between the end user of a product and the product’s creator (who may be a technical genius but who cannot express themselves to non-technical people). A badly-written operating manual for a video recorder can alienate a potential customer from a company for life!
There may not be much individual recognition for technical writers, but their services are always in demand. Products are constantly being developed and revised, which means the explanatory skills of the technical writer will also be needed. Customer service is becoming a key concern for many larger companies, and this is another area where technical writing skills – both on-line and off-line – are invaluable. Some companies employ their own teams of technical writers, whereas others prefer to contract the work out to specialist freelancers. Technical writers who can translate manuals and other technical documents into, or from, another language are particularly sought-after.
Technology is becoming increasingly important and significant in every aspect of daily life, at work and at home. The need for clear, concise, accurate and understandable documentation in how to use this technology is also therefore becoming more important. Just take a moment to think about your own environment, at home, at school – wherever. How many pieces of equipment and technology do you use that have required an explanatory document to access their capabilities? You can thank technical writers for those explanations.
(COM14 Course Content, Griffith University, 2010)