Learning Ashram

Technical Writing

Technical writing, a form of technical communication, is a style of formal writing used in fields as diverse as computer hardware and software, chemistry, the aerospace industry, robotics, finance, consumer electronics, and biotechnology. Technical writers explain technology and related ideas to technical and nontechnical audiences. This could mean, for example, telling a programmer how to use a software library or telling a consumer how to operate a television remote control.

Technical writers gather information from existing documentation and from subject matter experts. A subject matter expert (SME) is any expert on the topic that the writer is working on. Technical writers are often not SMEs themselves (unless they are writing about creating good technical documentation). Workers at many levels, and in many different fields, have a role in producing technical communications. A good technical writer needs strong language and teaching skills and must understand the many conventions of modern technical communications.

Technical writing teams or departments are often referred to as Information Development, User Assistance, Technical Documentation, or Technical Publications. Technical writers themselves may be called API Writers, information developers, documentation specialists, documentation engineers, or technical content developers. Advanced technical writers often move into specialized areas such as API writing, information architecture or documentation management.

For technical documents to be useful, readers must understand and act on them without having to decode wordy and ambiguous prose. Good technical writing clarifies technical jargon; that is, it presents useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience. Poor technical writing often creates unnecessary technical jargon and sows seeds of confusion and misunderstanding in the readers' minds.

Consider a technical writer writing a cake recipe:

* Audience: Is the audience composed of people in home kitchens or highly trained chefs in professional kitchens?
* Source: Is there existing documentation—a rough draft? Who is the subject matter expert (SME)?
* Deliverable: Is the deliverable simple text for inclusion in a book, or formatted to final form? Is the target a paper, a Web page, or something else?

The technical writer determines that the recipe is written down on the back of a napkin but is partially indecipherable, so he must also interview a SME—the chef who created it. He is told that the audience consists of people in their own kitchens, so the writer must adjust the style accordingly and replace or explain words in the source material like "beurre mixer" or "springform pan." The chef reviews a draft of the recipe (a technical edit) and marks in needed technical corrections (bake at 350 degrees, not 325 degrees). The writer prepares a final draft and the document goes into English edit to ensure that all instructions are grammatically correct. The document owner and any other stakeholders perform a final review and approve the recipe before it is sent to the printer.