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September 25, 2019

The changing nature of technical writing

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, technical writers are going to be in very high demand over the next 10 years. The BLS reported demand for this highly specialised form of communication is set to rise by 10 per cent between 2014 and 2024.

But just what does a technical writer do? You don’t need to have the title of ‘technical writer’ to utilise technical writing skills in the workplace. If you work for a company that deals in highly-skilled technical or analytical work, you’re likely already technical writing.

Traditionally, technical writing is documenting processes and writing things like software manuals and instructional materials. But that definition has now become outdated and is continuing to change to keep up with the speed of technological advances.

The new definition of technical writing encompasses all documentation of complex technical processes from reports, executive summary statements and briefs. In fact, technical writing is used to cover any type of communication that includes technical information, from high-tech manufacturing, engineering, biotech, energy, aerospace, finance, IT, and global supply chain.

And just as the definition of technical writing has changed so has the way in which it is done. No longer does this form of communication rely solely on lengthy user manuals. Today technical information can be put in any number of formats from technical reports, emails, policy, briefs and even press releases.
While the main job of a technical writer is to communicate technical information in an easily understandable and digestible manner, their brief includes much more than just putting words on a page or a screen. Ultimately, the technical writer has to understand the entire project – from its high-end goals to the way in which it is to be implemented.

Becoming a technical writer isn’t simply a matter of being able to string together a good sentence with a few technology references thrown in for good measure. The Australian Bureau of Statistics forecast that by 2019 there would be nearly 27,000 technical writers employed in Australia, the majority of which will have a Bachelor degree or higher. Although there are courses specifically designed for technical writers, the majority are industry trained to be specialists in the field and be competent to write the type of documents that industry requires.

A good technical writer, however, does have an arsenal of skills that can be transferred from one industry to another. Perhaps the most important of those skills is being able to competently and efficiently conduct independent and thorough research, collating data from libraries to interviews to on-site data and intranet publications.

A good technical writer also needs to be able to understand their audience and, more importantly, understand how the information they are trying to communicate will be perceived by that audience.

Communication skills are imperative to be a successful technical writer. You will likely be working with multiple teams and individuals from differing roles. Your ability to listen, record, and communicate will be crucial.
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