This blog is sequel to the last blog, Are Technical Writers Engineers? It is a continuation of the situation where some friends/neighbours ask me what I do, then I tell them I’m a technical writer, blank look, explanation follows with the example of a refrigerator manual. I quote from my previous blog “My favorite example is the refrigerator manual. I tell them that just like a manual for any consumer durable (like a fridge), I write manuals for software.” Well just when I think they have understood something, this question comes flying at me “So you DO write refrigerator manuals and other such manuals for consumer durables?”

I really don’t know how to answer this question, but the truthful answer is we could write consumer durables’ manuals too. Or we could have started our careers this way too, by writing manuals for mixers, grinders, cookers, toasters, microwave ovens etc. Some of us may have honed our skills to be technical writers to document software over time.

Who are technical writers? Those who write guides or user manuals for consumer durables are not called technical writers. Only those writers who document software are referred to as technical writers. So, this is a very software industry centric term.

How the market for technical writers arose: There was no training for technical writers initially. In fact, the software industries did not have any need for technical writers. Developers documented whatever little was necessary. Slowly, product companies realized the need for hiring people to write their user/installation manuals so that support calls were easier to handle.

Work of a technical writer: A technical writer should be able to create a document keeping the audience in mind. If the writer is creating a user manual, he/she should list the steps so that the end user can handle the product for a given task with ease. In an installation manual a technical writer gives step by step instructions on how to install the product to the end user.

Backgrounds of technical writers maybe varied: So these software companies first started hiring people with strong written and communication skills. Teachers, creative writers, arts graduates, post graduates, journalists were all qualified for this role. The only obvious qualification was good written and spoken English with an ability to express well.

Writers with an engineering background: Engineers with a flair for writing also make good technical writers. They have an added advantage where they understand technology better and are well versed with the technical jargon. Such writers are preferred to write technical documents like API documentation or FRS documents.

Technical writers should ideally be able to write any procedure for a given audience. But a technical writer primarily is called so only in the software industry. So those who write consumer durable guides are plain vanilla writers. Technical writers are writers with chocolate or maybe strawberry sauce?

Author: Priya Suresh