If you’re good at breaking down complex ideas and instructions into simple terms that anyone can understand, you might want to consider specializing in technical writing. It’s a highly valuable skill which is in demand and usually well paid.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for technical writers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, due to the continued increase in web-based and technical products.
What is Technical Writing?
Technical writing is any written form of content that communicates about technical or specialized topics, usually providing instructions about how to do something or use something. It’s about breaking down complex information into user-friendly language that readers can easily understand, usually via web pages or helpful documents.
Technical writing isn’t limited to IT and software companies. Colleges, government agencies, industrial manufacturers, financial companies, broadcasters, and medical practices all require strong technical writing. The list could go on.
Although many often think of technical writing as instruction manuals, it can take various forms, such as white papers, how-to guides, educational courses, or employee handbooks.
Technical Writing: Starting Out
1. Develop a Technical Writing Portfolio
If you have no previous work to highlight, create some new samples so that prospective clients can see what you’re capable of. You could rewrite support documents for a well-known app, or develop a user guide for a product you use.
2. Look for Technical Writing Jobs
Technical writing jobs can be found on various writing job sites such as Constant Content, Freelancer, Upwork, and LinkedIn. You can set up email alerts on these sites so you know when new jobs are posted.
Alternatively, send your portfolio to organizations that may need your services, or ask your existing network of friends and colleagues for help.
3. Find Your Niche
If you already have knowledge of a certain industry, consider focusing on a specific niche, such as computer software or finance. You’ll build your knowledge in that field, strengthen your writing, and be more attractive to relevant clients.
4. Ask the Experts
You’ll never stop learning as a technical writer. If you’re struggling with a topic, reach out to experts in the industry for advice, technical knowledge, and encouragement. Use social media and email to request information.
Technical Writing: Best Practices
5. Prepare Well
You should be given a brief by the client that includes the topic, goal, scope, target audience, and supporting documents. If you’re unsure about anything before you start the first draft, ask the client questions until you fully understand the project and know what is expected of you.
6. Focus on the Reader
Never lose sight of the target audience. The content should answer all potential questions the reader may have, and it should be easy to read and navigate.
[bctt tweet=”Never lose sight of the target audience. The content should answer all potential questions the reader may have, and it should be easy to read and navigate.” username=”constantcontent”]
7. Be Clear and Concise
The ultimate goal is to be understood as quickly as possible. Be concise, use plain language, and avoid industry jargon. Eliminate as many words as you can without affecting the readability and meaning of each sentence. Include a glossary if the topic contains complicated names and terms.
8. Strengthen the Structure
To make the document more scannable, use subheadings, numbered lists, and bullet points. In each section, start with the most important information and follow up with supporting details.
9. Balance Text with Visuals
Another way to strengthen the structure of your writing is by adding visuals. Diagrams, screenshots, charts, graphics, and photos should be used to provide another format for comprehension.
Technical Writing: Going Forward
10. Edit Carefully
As a technical writer, attention to detail is crucial. You are the chief editor and proofreader, responsible for correct grammar and spelling. Use your word processor and a tool like Grammarly to double-check your content.
11. Use Templates
Many technical writers use templates to help with structure and clarity. Ask your client for a template or create your own to save time and deliver consistent documents.
12. Develop Your Skills
The more technical writing projects you complete, the more efficient you’ll become at creating high-quality documents. Use your spare time to learn more about your chosen industry and brush up on technical writing best practices.
13. Be Humble
As you develop your skills as a technical writer, you should be completely open to feedback from clients, peers, and experts. Both negative and positive feedback is useful. Be humble, learn from your mistakes, and accept these educational opportunities to grow as a writer.
[bctt tweet=”As you develop your skills as a technical writer, you should be completely open to feedback from clients, peers, and experts. Both negative and positive feedback is useful. Be humble.” username=”constantcontent”]
Technical writing doesn’t have to be dull. Although it’s more formal in tone, you still have scope for creativity. Ultimately, it’s about good planning, attention to detail, and audience focus.
Becoming a good technical writer takes time, but it can open up huge opportunities for you to grow as a writer and advance your freelancing career.
For further inspiration, here are five essential skills every technical writer should master.