So You Think You Want to be a Technical Writer, Aye?

Writing is like coding; it is nearly always black and white and has lots of opinions involved. I would put exclamation points or semicolons where you may never dream of putting them and yes, there are many times when I am disgusted by the way people use or forget their commas as well. Writing well is important, it’s like public speaking – say, you attend a wedding of your closest friend and they ask you to stand up right there in front of people you know, some you like, some you don’t know, and others that probably make you tense. You would obviously be hesitant to speak then, may you should not, but you must! Writing is something much the same. There are people to whom writing is no big deal but for others, they do it because they must. In time, both public speakers and writers tend to find that confidence and harness their fear. So why is writing important? It’s very simple; when you come to think of it, all writing is marketing actually. Marketing is everywhere, even when you don’t think anything as marketing, it is there. Marketing is important as well, even when we interact with one another, at a one-to-one level, it’s important to convey our messages across. Writing is like that too – it’s important to convey our messages across. When we sell our ideas or products, we want people to be enthusiastic about it and have them think positively about our writing. We want people to get to the end of the novel and say, ‘hey, that’s good writing!’ and then buy the next book. Technical writing and doing it well is important because otherwise people will think you’re an idiot. It is fashionable these days to be grammar Nazi – notice how people text these days, check some of the trending tweets on Twitter, it’s people fighting about incorrect spellings or failing to use grammar correctly. People will judge you; how stupid is this person who can’t even string a sentence together! Well, that is not true. Having a problem with sentence construction could be for the simple reasons that you maybe too busy, or maybe you don’t know how to do it or you don’t have the education or you just didn’t have the time to think about it. Whatever your excuse, it is nicer for you to not let people think you are an idiot and be careful about what you put out there in writing. Technical writing is all about documenting your thoughts about the product or process in such a way that people understand it at one go; it is much better than to wake up to 100 emails in the morning reading about people being confused and asking you to verify what you meant. It is a very basic idea. For example, if you work at a call center then when your documentation goes well, the support team will hate you less and your customers will like you more Aren’t we now convinced that we need to write well? Now let’s talk about what is the kind of a document that is considered ‘technically written’? Some can chime countless items such as - user guide or manuals, online help, walkthroughs, release notes, comments, proposals, executive summary, functional specifications, design specifications, interface specifications, system requirements, marketing material like packaging, journal and blogs. The point is, basically if it has writing on it then it is technical writing. If it is at work, related to code and it has writing on it, then it is technical writing.What is not considered as tech writing? Fiction Technical writing is almost like a translation job. It is almost as if you are extracting information out of the engineer’s head, organizing it, putting it down in black and white and setting it back into other people’s heads! Organizing of all the information we have is the most crucial job. Once we do have all the information, we organize it into different logical units; compartmentalizing them into discrete units (what we call topics) we sit down and work out what all this information is going to look like. What kind of document are we going to write? How is it going to look? What information will be discarded? Of course, a lot of it can be easily known by doing the audience analysis – so who is going to be read it? How is it going to be approaching the document? Of course, when we’re done with all of the above, we write, edit, write edit and edit some more. Once the document is published, we maintain an update. It’s a fairly complicated process that starts by extracting information, which is the hardest part of it all. Think about it, so do you still want to be a technical writer?