Technical writing as a field covers many different areas. Many people, when they think of technical writers, think of user manuals for their favorite (or least favorite) software application. That is certainly one job a technical writer might have, but it is far from the only job. Some technical writers spend much more time working of reference materials, which can take the form of long books filled with technical information but very little in the way of instructions. Some technical writers spend their time creating online help files for people with specific problems that occur within an application. Other technical writers rarely work on new information at all; they spend their time updating old manuals or datasheets. Many technical writers work on a large team focused on creating a single document or set of documents. Other technical writers find themselves in charge of every single technical document an organization produces. A technical writer may create a single sheet of information or a thousand page book. The occupation is very diverse.
A technical writer’s primary task is to present specialized information to an audience. There are several important steps to the process, but an individual writer may not be a part of all of these steps. These are the steps required to create useful documentation:
- Analyze the information
- Determine the needs of the audience
- Determine the documents required to meet the needs of the audience
- Design the documents and present the information
- Test to determine if the documentation meets the needs of the audience
- Edit the documentation
- Publish the documentation
- Revise the information as necessary throughout the lifecycle of the document
Often, a writer finds that they are working on only one or two layers of the documentation path. For example, a writer may take a job in which they work primarily as a document editor, or they may find work revising existing documentation. Sometimes, this leads into different job titles. A person may spend the majority of their time on audience analysis, and acquire a title as a usability tester or an information architect. The person who primarily edits/revises documents might be called a document editor or technical editor. A skilled technical writer, however, must be prepared to execute this entire process.