The technical writing profession has evolved over the years.
What used to be a job that boils down to describing machine parts is now an industry that creates interactive, engaging pieces of content.
With so many changes in the scope of work, it’s no wonder that there’s an abundance of myths surrounding technical writing.
This article will analyze some of the widespread misconceptions and shed light on what technical writing actually entails.
So, if you’re an aspiring writer or a client wanting to hire one, read on to find what you can expect from the technical writing process.
Technical Writers Only Write
Even though it’s called technical writing, the activity encompasses much more than stringing sentences together.
Technical writers also work on formatting content, as well as enhancing its readability and visual appeal.
Some common visual elements in technical documents are screenshots, diagrams, and illustrations. This doesn’t mean that tech writers need a degree in arts, though.
A basic understanding of graphic design can do wonders for your technical documentation. For instance, you could create a flowchart like this one using almost any data visualization tool.
Images can help you explain the product more effectively than plain text. So, when creating your technical documentation, you should pay attention to both how it reads and looks.
And if you’re presenting a software product, it’s a good idea to enrich the writing with relevant screenshots.
All in all, you don’t have to commission a professional artist to do technical writing, but you should still expect the contributors to enhance their writing with visual design.
Technical Writing Is Not a Creative Job
A lack of creativity in technical writing is a myth that deters skilled writers from exploring new career paths.
However, the myth couldn’t be further from the truth; you need a great deal of creativity to clearly present complex information.
If technical writing didn’t require creativity, you could feed an AI machine the information about your product and let it do the work.
Yet, the input of the right info rarely equates to readable results, especially with technical products.
A technical writer is there to decode complex technical information and organize it in a coherent manner. Let’s look at a great example of technical writing from Logitech's user manual.
Rather than just listing the technical features of the mouse, the manual covers its crucial components, explains their functions, and provides concise instructions on how to use the product.
The information is organized logically, which is no small feat considering that three different aspects of the product are covered.
So, technical writing is a job that definitely requires allowing your creative juices to flow. You just need to direct the creativity into communicating usable instructions, not fiction.
Anyone Can Write Technical Documentation
As technical writing continues to grow in popularity, there is a bigger pool of tech authors to work with.
Still, businesses should know that not every subject matter expert is a good writer, and vice versa.
Asking published poets to help with technical writing won’t get you far, regardless of their eloquence.
If they don’t have the knowledge of the subject, they’ll only be able to polish the language, not clarify the meaning.
Therefore, Jackie Wheeler, a technical writer expert, advises clients to find authors who boast more than language skills.
Wheeler finds it crucial to work with technical writers who “anticipate the questions that users will ask when they follow the material.”
In other words, a writer has to understand the subject and the target audience when working with technical documentation.
Contrarily, not even assigning lead engineers to write technical documentation guarantees success because they might not express their ideas in the most transparent way, despite being factually correct.
The next time you find yourself looking for tech writers, make sure you select those with a proven track record in both technical knowledge and linguistic competence.
Creating Technical Documentation Is Actually Easy
People often believe that, after the product is finished, somebody just needs to collect all the data about it in one place, and there’s your technical documentation.
If only it were so easy!
Unfortunately, technical documentation being an entry-level job is just a myth. In reality, the writing process takes time and skill.
Once the content is written, it’s time to format the documents—an element of technical writing that many find challenging.
Luckily, you can overcome the challenge with an effective product documentation platform, such as Archbee.
Archbee makes formatting and editing a breeze by letting you write in markdown for maximum speed.
There’s also an option to use the hover box for those who want to bypass coding altogether.
Making the documentation publicly available is just as straightforward; all you have to do is click the publish button.
Once you eliminate the inconvenience of complicated editing, you can spend more time writing and less time formatting.
You Can’t Have a Writing Style in Technical Writing
Another myth floating around in the technical writing space is that there’s no room for developing a personal style in professional content.
However, you’ll find that technical documentation written with readers in mind performs better and even leads to increased customer satisfaction.
So, you shouldn’t shy away from injecting some personality into your writing.
GitHub’s developer documentation is the perfect example of how you can keep the technical information professional, yet light to read.
This doesn’t mean that you have to load the text with puns. In fact, a simple stylistic choice such as using contractions helps you sound more natural.
According to the game developer Kathy Sierra, users struggle with understanding technical information because:
“People stop writing like humans when they write FAQs.”
If your aim is to create engaging and genuinely useful technical documentation, you shouldn’t forget about the principle of writing for humans first, computers second.
Understanding Your Tools Is More Important Than Your Industry Knowledge
Proficiency in technical writing tools is an advantage worth mentioning to clients, but it’s far from a prerequisite for being a great technical writer.
On the other hand, if you have in-depth industry knowledge, you can create excellent technical documentation even in your smartphone notes app.
Knowing HTML, Photoshop, Miro, and various document publishing tools undoubtedly streamlines technical writing.
Yet, you won’t often see specific tools listed as a requirement for a technical writer role because clients place more value on specialized knowledge.
For instance, Tesla only requires tech writers to have industry experience.
The tools writers have previously used are not considered a factor for a job because the company is aware that you can learn to use a tool over a few weeks, but it takes months to learn about the intricacies of a product you are writing about.
To sum up, understanding the commonly used tools is a bonus point. However, it’s the technical expertise that separates excellent writers from the rest.
Technical Writers Only Write User Manuals
When it comes to technical documentation types, an average customer mostly encounters user guides, which is probably where the myth about technical writers only writing user manuals comes from.
However, the job is much more dynamic, seeing that technical writing is a skill sought after in:
So, if you’d like a career in tech writing but the thought of getting stuck with user manuals concerns you, you should know that there are many other areas where you could apply your writing skills.
For instance, white papers are the category where writers are expected to stray away from technical vocabulary, allowing for a more conversational writing tone.
Take this Cisco’s white paper as an example.
The tone of the text is as if the authors are talking to a friend. On the other hand, medical texts require a different approach, forcing you to switch up your writing practices.
All things considered, there’s no reason to limit yourself to user manuals if you don’t like writing them. You can build a career in tech writing with numerous other types of documentation.
Only Native Speakers Can Be Technical Writers
Believing the myth that only native speakers can be technical writers prevents businesses from finding skilled talent specializing in relevant technology.
If you asked a client reluctant to hire a non-native speaker to write technical documentation to explain their reasoning, they’d probably mention limited vocabulary.
However, the purpose of technical writing is to convey meaning in plain terms, meaning that you don’t need Shakespearean language to present a product.
In fact, some tech writers claim that being a non-native speaker gave them an edge over their competitors.
Additionally, not even texts written by native speakers are exempt from spelling and grammar checks and editing, so why hold non-native writers to a different standard?
Of course, technical writers have to have a grasp of the target language.
However, the goal of the job is to write in clear, basic terms, so it’s much better to focus on writers from specific industry niches.
After all, grammar checkers flag the same errors regardless of the author’s IP location.
Technical Writers Don’t Participate in Product Development
Contrary to popular belief, technical writing isn’t a final step in the product development process.
It actually begins before the release, meaning that tech writers get to participate in the development while it’s still in progress.
When describing a working day as a technical writer, Kinga Kisielinska mentioned that the job includes activities other than document creation.
Kisielinska, a tech writer at Nobl9, says that they also play the role of testers.
For instance, when writers start working on user documentation after a build is finished, they’re among the first team members to notice usability issues.
Moreover, since language is the primary aspect of the technical writing job, writers can also detect any inconsistencies in terminology or navigation even before the solution is available to customers.
By providing timely feedback to the development team, technical writers can improve the user experience without writing any code.
You Have to Be Quite Tech-Savvy for This Occupation
Unless you’re planning to write API documentation, you can build a technical writing career without being a software developer.
What’s true for one specific niche is luckily just a myth in many other technical writing areas.
According to Judy Murdoch, a freelance writer, tech writers need to know how to communicate with developers so that they can present the information to less-technical audiences.
So, a writer doesn’t necessarily need to know how to create a feature in the app—but they do have to know all about its use.
Additionally, a significant portion of technical documentation boils down to presenting a product to regular customers, not tech wizards.
When Murdoch was writing instructions for a benefits claims software, she wasn’t a coder nor a claims processor.
However, her ability to ask relevant questions helped her create a thorough knowledge base that end users could easily browse.
In tech writing, it’s sometimes more important to ask the right questions and understand processes than to be an experienced coder.
You Can’t Get a Job in Technical Writing
There’s a myth that technical writing jobs are hard to land.
Yet, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the tech writer employment rates will grow by 12% by 2030.
While the data shows that there’s no shortage of technical writing positions, there’s a difference between finding a job and finding a good job.
Therefore, you might have to spend some time writing not-so-exciting documentation.
But once you establish yourself as an expert in a specific technical field, you’ll be able to select only the clients or companies you truly want to work with.
And if you can’t find work in local companies, remember that technical writing is an activity completely compatible with remote work; meaning that you find more opportunities globally.
No One Reads Technical Documentation
We know, not even tech writers read the user manual from cover to cover when they buy a new fridge.
Still, writing technical documentation comes with a sense of accomplishment because you know your writing skills have helped users identify and solve problems.
Many technical writers take pride in this aspect of the job.
And unlike fiction writers, tech writers don’t mind it when users scan and skip parts of the content to get to the relevant ones.
The most important part of successful documentation is to provide readers with actionable information.
If a user that has troubles logging into their account skips the documentation part about payments, so be it.
At least you know the section about logging in errors helped them solve the problem when they needed the solution.
There’s more to technical writing than how-to tutorials, and yes, you need to be creative to succeed in technical writing.
Now that you’re aware of the common myths about technical writing, you can make an informed decision about whether this career path is right for you or whether your company needs a technical writer.
Either way, we hope we’ve debunked the myths and helped you see this line of work more clearly.