Categorized | Job Hunting

Tech writers bridge the gap between IT and everyone else

Posted on 06 October 2008

How can we understand all the technology that’s become a part of our lives? We play videogames, run software programs, and depend on countless other electronic and technical devices, both at home and at work. Who teaches us to operate, maintain, and train others to operate this evolving technology? For the most part, we have technical writers to thank.

In fact, we have technical writers to thank for every major mode of communication in our lives that seeks to instruct, inform, entertain, and influence us. High-tech, telecom, and other industries depend on these writers to help them in every aspect of public communication. They inform the public about a company’s image and message, help market products and services, and keep clients and customers up to date on new developments.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports employment opportunities for technical writers will increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2008. Why is there such a huge demand for technical writers? Perhaps it helps to know a little more about technical writing.

Understanding and Organizing Ideas
It’s no surprise that, even in large companies, no one quite knows what a technical writer does. As Aaron W. Morrison, a tech writer for Medic Computer Systems in Raleigh, NC, says: “Most organizations don’t understand the role tech writers can play.” One of the first unofficial responsibilities they have is to educate the staff about what a technical writer does.

Technical writing involves translating complex information and ideas into readable text, helping readers understand what it all means. But it isn’t limited to just one industry. Technical writers produce material for tech, business, medical, government, legal, academic, and entertainment organizations. These writers often call their work “technical communication” because the work is very complex. Technical writers do much more than write: they gather information, study source material, perform library or Internet research, and interview subjects for training manuals, marketing materials, speeches, and proposals.

What do you have to know to be a technical writer? The educational requirements vary from job to job. Marjorie Parks, a writer who produces manuals about Internet security software, has her PhD–but not in technical writing. “I had absolutely no training for this job,” she says. “But what I did have was experience in working very hard, taking projects from start to completion, teaching, and a willingness to research information.”

Whether you have a degree or not, you’ll need certain skills to be a good technical writer:

  • Aptitude for complex information
  • Ability to write clearly and precisely
  • Desire to simplify information for your audience
  • Understanding of design principles

Tricks of the Trade
Companies are developing new technologies at a rapid pace. So, technical writers must continually develop their knowledge and skills. The Society of Technical Communicators (STC), located in Arlington, VA, helps writers do this in several ways.

Maurice Martin, Communication Director with the STC says, “We offer many things that writers can use to help them in their careers: magazines, competitions, special interest groups that you can join related to your specific area of technical writing, 150 local chapters that meet to discuss trends and professional issues, and annual conferences.”

No matter how you decide to improve your skills, all technical writers have to learn new and better ways to make information easy to understand. “You must enjoy the profession and be passionate about it,” Morrison says, “or you won’t improve anything. I recommend [that you read] articles and books, join an organization and get involved in it, teach others what you know, and most of all, experiment. You can never learn enough about technical writing.”

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