Technical Writers : The Key Actors of a Company

Today, we do not venture on the road without a GPS device or a map, and, the same way, we do not want to buy a product without its user guide. How do we know that our printer is connected to the computer ? Which button do we need to press to turn on the car radio ? How do we change the phone’s battery ? Such questions technical writers would be able to answer.

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They are the creators of the user guides of the devices you are using. They did not assemble or imagine the pieces, but they made you able to understand why these pieces exist. They translate and interpret engineers, they create brochures and technical specifications. Sometimes, they even create video tutorials so you get access to more details and illustrations. In short, they are everywhere. They are multitasking : “technical writer” is not necessarily how they are called but they are still the reason why you do not need to go back to the store to ask how to use your coffee machine.

However, becoming a technical writer is not as easy as it sounds. Trainings are required to learn how to utilize the most commonly used (and demanded) software in companies and to learn how to structure the information.

You need to be concise. The user must be able to easily and quickly find the piece of information he needs. I mean, he already only reads the user guide because he is stuck (“why isn’t this drill more intuitive ?”), he does not want to also lose any time looking for the answer he needs.

Technical knowledge – in particular industrial knowledge – can be an added value for this job if you want to work in fields such as industry, defense, aeronautics, etc. However, this knowledge will not be needed in fields such as software development.

The technical writer can produce several types of documentation : software (how to use the software functionalities or the video game options), hardware and equipment (description of the product, its use, etc.), training programs (intended for trainers power points, video tutorials, etc.), or what is called RedacTech 2.0 (online help, management of wikis and FAQs…).

Thus, young technical writing students from all backgrounds do not need to be expert in a specific field to find a job, but having a bit of knowledge in several fields will allow them to have many open doors. As the profession is becoming increasingly better-known, there is no shortage of job offers at the moment. According to the candidates’ tastes, career opportunities in large aerospace companies, in SMEs or even in the army are entirely possible.

Although the market keeps expanding in France, technical writing is already well-known abroad and interesting job offers are available (provided you are comfortable with English, but also with other foreign languages such as German or Spanish).

To conclude on this awesome job, it is important to remember that “technical writing is the art and science of translating technical information into readable, accessible writing usable by a wide audience.” (Universal Class).

Written by Julie Daval

Translated by David Loury

So, What Do You Do for a Living ?

“I don’t understand your job…” This is not the first time you hear this. Oddly enough, technical writing, which requires concision and clarity, is a profession that is difficult to explain.

The concept of technical writing is hard to comprehend from the start. Seen as a rather complicated job for the layman, writing seems to them more literary than it really is. On its part, the technical notion is absolutely not understood. So, we must learn to be more understandable. We could settle for saying that we write instructions, but it would trigger a derogatory response such as : “Like the ones for microwaves ? The ones that no one ever reads ?”

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Indeed, but this job calls for more than mere writing abilities. There is a thinking part, so that the information is easily detectable, and then a layout part, in order, among other things, for the instructions to be readable.

“After all, anyone can do this job.” No, because otherwise there would not be any training for this job, and companies would not be so demanding during recruitment. And no, we do not steal the work of engineers, we cooperate with them so that they don’t waste their time writing.

But how can we explain our job in a clearer way ? That’s simple : we must explain writing in the easiest way possible, by conjuring up fields appreciated by the person we are speaking to. “I write user guides to teach everyone how to use a device.” We are aware that it is very reductive, but it remains effective.

There is no use in wasting time with too many details, like the fact that writing can be done using several complex programming languages, or that it is published in various file formats (web, PDF…) and various languages. Or even the fact that we collaborate with engineers, engineering and design departments and so on. Too many details destroy the information.

In the end, we must remain simple in our speech just as much as in our job.

 Written by Julie Daval

Translated by Sarah Deville

What is a Content Strategy ?

In technical writing, setting up a content strategy before starting to write your documentation is mandatory. Indeed, before any other things, it is essential for any technical writer to ask  themselves a few questions if they want to create a relevant and useful documentation. By  asking the right questions, the technical writer defines the objectives of its documentation :

  • What is the purpose of this documentation ?
  • What is the goal ?
  • What is the target audience ?
  • Where will this content be published ?
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1° Writing a technical document such as instructions or a user guide is necessary to understand a product’s operating process. My goal is to make this documentation accessible to a target audience.

2°) The content of a technical document gives information about the functionalities and the procedures to set up and use a product. The purpose of my documentation is then to help the client use the product properly and efficiently .

3°)  Defining the target audience of the documentation is an important step because many elements will take this criterion into account during the writing process. For example, the level and type of language will differ depending on if the audience is rather young or old. Here, the  goal is to try and get as close to the target audience as possible to better fit the client’s needs. Furthermore, the target audience will also influence the document’s layout. Indeed, depending on the company and on the missions assigned to the technical writer, they may be in charge of creating the layout of the document. Once again, the graphics, colours, typography, etc. will not be the same for an audience of young teenagers as for an audience of older people.

4°) Will the documentation be published online ? Or will it be printed ? Depending on the type of product for which the documentation is created, the output format will differ and most importantly will be adapted to the product and its  packaging. For example, for a software or website, an online format will be more logically used, while for a board game, a paper format will be used.

You now have at your disposal a basic knowledge of what will allow you to create a relevant technical documentation. However, do not forget it is only one of the many steps preceding the writing of a technical document. The next step will be to learn the writing techniques and methods required for a clear and effective documentation.

                                                                                   Written by Anne-Laure Zamarreno

                                                                             Translated by Arthur Chevallier-Letort