In today's competitive world the technical writer job is no longer simple. It used to be like that a couple of years ago when everything that a technical writer had to do was to write the documentation.

But things have changed and the role of the technical writer has been constantly evolving over the last couple of years. Especially now, when software developers and software development products are all around us, in everything we do, the job of the technical writer also has significantly changed.

What you will find out is that today you are no longer just a technical writer who needs to write documentation. The expectations and the required skills has changed.

Let me explain in this post the different types of technical writers as I see them today and what are their specifics.

1. The Classical Technical Writer

The classical technical writer is involved in the process of preparing, delivering and then maintenance of technical documentation.

  • Focus on language 4/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 5/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 2/5
  • Project management skills 1/5

2. The Editor Technical Writer

A technical writer who is involved in the editing part of the documentation. Often, this is a person who is a native speaker of the language in which the documentation is being produced. The Editor Technical Writer is heavily specialized on a given subject and has an excellent knowledge of in the language aspects themselves. (If you have found the spelling and styling mistakes in my post so far - probably you have the Editor Technical Writing glasses on yourself! :)

This type of technical writer is involved in the editing part of the work so much that he is always looking for any possible mistakes in the documentation that has been written. His or her job is to find all the possible typos or incorrectly spelled words or any sentences that make no sense or come with an incorrect meaning for the user of the target language.

  • Focus on language 5/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 1/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 1/5
  • Project management skills 1/5

3. The Software Documentation Technical Writer

What is the difference here between the classical technical writer and the technical writer who is involved with software documentation?

In the software development world the barrier is much higher - the expectations in terms of knowledge and skills that you need to have as a technical writer are much broader. But the thing you should be aware of is that the expectation is much higher not towards the language aspect of what you do. Many technical writers forget that or they just take their experience from the classical technical writing job and wonder why they suffer in the software development world.

In reality the technical writer in the world of software documentation needs to be a part of the software development team. He or she acts as a fully staffed member into the development team. This means that he or she needs to have the precise knowledge just like any other developer would do in addition to that knowledge the the technical writer will have to know

also the different aspects of the software development processes themselves, in order to be able to deliver high quality software documentation on time and with good quality.

  • Focus on language 3/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 4/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 4/5
  • Project management skills 2/5

4. User Interface Technical Writer (or UX Copywriter)

A technical writer, who is involved in software documentation and is reviewing the user interface texts.

Have you ever seen an application which is so intuitive that you don't need to read the software documentation to use it? I hope so! One of the reasons the application is so well crafter and easy to use is because the technical writer has done some great job analyzing and defining the text that you see on the screen as well as the information that is provided by the application. As an end-user, you don't feel the need to go to read any documentation, unless there is some complicated procedure that you need to perform.

This type of information that is provided on the screen is often referred to as embedded help,

embedded information, UI text, user interface text.

You may also find out that this type of technical writers are referred to as copywriters. Do not confuse that with the job of the copywriter in email marketing. The role of this type of technical writer is to review the user interface texts and provide the information on the screen itself.

  • Focus on language 3/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 4/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 1/5
  • Project management skills 2/5

5. The Instructional Video Technical Writer

In this flavor of technical writing again the technical writer is very close to the marketing part of their world or the product that he's working on needs a little bit of information that attracts the user to interact with the content itself.

This type of technical writer is involved in the actual development, production, and delivery of video content that guides and helps the user and in this case you can think about a person who is dealing with video production but with the intended goal to help the user. The technical writing aspect of it is that you still need to provide a good script and be able to provide the right information that helps the user. Very often the technical documentation is what is used as a basis for the video script.

  • Focus on language 3/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 4/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 1/5
  • Project management skills 1/5

6. The Support Technical Writer

He or she is deeply involved in the support aspect of the work. The technical writer is a part of the support team and creates the so-called KBAs (Knowledge Base Articles), which help the user to solve particular frequently encountered problems.

Again, the technical writer is writing, but this time he's he or she is much closer to the world of the customers who report problems and the tech writer is perceived as a part of the support team or support organization in the company.

  • Focus on language 3/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 5/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 3/5
  • Project management skills 3/5

7. The Producer Technical Writer

A technical writer who is involved in the actual processing, organization, and production of the content.

He or she may be involved not so much in the writing aspect but in the information architecture and/or production of nice looking content that is rendered beautifully and matches the style guide of the company as well as the branding guidelines. The information that needs to be presented in front of the user.

  • Focus on language 1/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 1/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 5/5
  • Project management skills 4/5

8. The XML Technical Writer

If you want to be a modern technical writer and you want to grow into the field of software documentation in addition to all of those technical writer types, you need also to be deeply aware of how to properly structure and organize information. This is a technical writer who knows how to write using XML language. He or she is involved in writing structured documentation, which makes it easier than the information to be post-processed, organized, and formatted into different ways - depending on the actual needs of the product itself. Again, this is very specific for the software development world, in which different modules, different parts of your product can easily be combined into so many different ways, which means that also the documentation itself needs to be dynamic and flexible - something that is completely impossible for other industries is supposed to happen in this case. Also, with the software documentation - very often that’s the de facto standard in the industry - is DITA XML or Darwin Information Typing Architecture XML is used as a standard language for structuring software documentation.

  • Focus on language 3/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 4/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 3/5
  • Project management skills 2/5

9. The Graphics Designer Technical Writer

In many corporations, the technical writer is involved into the creation of

visuals that guide and help the user. He or she develops graphics, visuals and infographics. Infographics are images that explain complicated processes or situations which are not visibly directly related to each other.

  • Focus on language 1/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 2/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 3/5
  • Project management skills 1/5

10. The Project Manager Technical Writer

The technical writer either is in a people manager role or (and it's even more possible) - the project manager, who works as a project manager technical writer. He or she is the person who knows how to lead projects to successful results, which that then can help and organize the content.

  • Focus on language 1/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 1/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 4/5
  • Project management skills 5/5

11. The Localization Technical Writer

A technical writer who is involved into the localization and/or translation aspects of the content.

He or she needs to understand that the product is being used differently in different countries. He or she writes the actual content or facilitates the work related to localization of the content, globalization of the content and very often - the translation aspects of the technical writing deliverables.

  • Focus on language 5/5
  • Focus on technical correctness 2/5
  • Need to have technical knowledge 1/5
  • Project management skills 4/5

Summary

As you can see if you want to be a technical writer and if you want to be a modern technical writer in your job you need to be able to combine at least some of those characteristics.Many colleagues in the industry today suffer when they have experience with only one of those dimensions of the technical writing job. They say to themselves: “Why is nobody calling me?! After all, I have so much experience!?”

They apply for a tech writer position and wonder what to do.

If you want to be a successful technical writer you need to know in which skills and which exact combination of skills are the ones that are important for the job for which you want to apply!

To your success!

JPDocu School of Technical Writing