Last updated on Jul 28, 2020
When it comes to writing of any kind, it’s important to have access to the tools that enable you to do the job to the best of your capability. However, this is particularly true when it comes to technical writing. Technical writing tools are essential to delivering good quality output. This is undeniable. As a very specific subset of writing with highly specific needs, having tools designed to help and optimize technical writing can be the difference between creating good output and great output.
Put simply, technical writing is drafting of technical communications used in highly tech-focused sectors, including robotics, finance, engineering, computer hardware and chemistry.
The Society for Technical Communication defines technical writing as ‘any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics: (1) communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations; (2) communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites; or (3) providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is’
Technical writing is often associated with user manuals and instructions, but in fact covers so much more across sectors, technologies and regions.
Examples of technical writing include:
All of these content formats fall under the remit of technical writing and require a fully capable technical writer in order to deliver maximum value.
The primary objective of technical writing is to impart information to another party in the clearest way possible. It is designed to simplify potentially confusing data and help those without the knowledge, expertise or background understand highly complicated concepts, ideas and strategies. Technical writers often cover highly complex subjects and so must evaluate topics at a granular level and identify the critical information in amongst the detail.
A good technical writer will have strong writing and communication skills while also understanding the detail and context of technical subject matters. This understanding is critical as it’s often necessary in order for the individual to identify which information to prioritize in their simplification efforts.
While technical writing is certainly a distinct subset from standard writing output, it still shares many of the same characteristics. Like any good piece of writing, an author must meet certain criteria in order to do a good job.
Understanding the reason for the piece of writing’s existence is critical to effectively fulfilling that requirement. Everything from the information prioritized, to the tone, length and style will be influenced heavily by the underlying requirement for the piece in question. Without an appreciation for the writing’s purpose and its role in the big picture, it can be difficult for the writer to make key decisions and optimize the piece.
Appreciating who they’re writing for is essential to the piece’s ability to effectively deliver the key information required. Age, seniority, experience, skill set etc, they all have a major impact on the data that needs prioritising and how it needs to be communicated. Without an understanding of the target audience, it can be difficult for technical authors to know what needs simplifying, what needs focusing on and what can be left out.
It’s likely multiple technical writers will be developing your companies documentation, so it’s important for the author in question to have visibility. This helps to avoid inconsistencies and repetition that can make the writing delivered less valuable or even potentially confusing. If your organization communicates a particular topic or concept a certain way, it’s critical the technical writer understands and maintains consistency – for the good of all involved.
With so many caveats, requirements and challenges, it’s clear technical writers need help and this is where technical writing tools come into play!
Armed with the right tools, a technical writer can quickly and efficiently, evaluate, analyse, prioritize, scope, write and manage technical content to ensure maximum value is delivered by the output.
Here are a few of the very best tools that help to solve the challenges above:
Google Docs is an extremely useful tool for technical writing as it helps them collaborate quickly and efficiently by enabling multi-user access to the same documentation. This means the document can be reviewed in real-time, seen by multiple stakeholders and easily managed across the business. Beyond that, if all technical content is first built in google docs, then it can be easily found via Google’s simple search function. This is extremely useful to the writer and helps to identify obvious information gaps.
In addition, Google Docs also offers great opportunities to show stakeholders and request feedback, without recommendations being made to the document itself. The Comment feature ensures feedback is not only visible in note form, but also provides full attribution, enabling the writer who is saying what and when. This can be particularly important when there are multiple stakeholders involved or if the topic in question is sensitives among different groups.
When it comes to technical writing of any kind, there is no room for error. Something as simple as a spelling mistake can have dire consequences if it either changes the context of the sentence or misrepresents the information it’s delivering. Consequences can be high with just a small error. With so much on the line, it makes sense to have a system that can actively recognize and weed out mistakes in order to effectively avoid such problems. Grammarly is that system. Grammarly is basically a super detailed grammar and spellchecker. It will highlight spelling errors and query questionable uses of phrase/terminology. Taking such a granular approach to reviewing content, Grammarly can help technical writers avoid these critical errors and provides peace of mind when it’s needed most.
On top of that, by protecting the intellectual integrity and quality of the writing by highlighting errors, Grammarly ensures the writing isn’t derided or ignored due to an unscrupulous error potentially undermining the message.
There’s no doubt about it, technical writing is challenging. It requires not only the ability to write effectively, but also good knowledge around the subject topics, a strategic appreciation for its delivery and a fundamental understanding of the content’s purpose and underlying role. With all this mind, it’s clear how important technical writing tools can be in the development of good technical content. The examples above showcase how basic fundamental tools can make a huge difference to not only the quality of writing output, but also the management and delivery of useful technical content.
The reality is, with the right technical writing tools on hand, your technical writers will be able to create easy to understand technical documentation quickly and efficiently that delivers value to all relevant stakeholders. This helps your business make the most of internal information, drive efficiency and unlock new opportunities to diversify skill sets. Good technical documentation delivers so many benefits, so it makes good sense to invest in the technical writing tools that maximize the value it can offer.