What Does a Technical Writer Do?

In this article, I’ll talk about what I do as a technical writer (for software products). I’m also going to let you know what I think a technical writer should be able to do. First off, let’s talk about my background and credentials. Basically, what qualifies me to be a technical writer? I have a Bachelors degree in English. I entered the job market immediately after graduation and was a private investigator for fraud and liability cases for several years. I briefly hopped over to project management (8 months) before returning to investigations. After a while, I didn’t see myself growing at the investigations companies and I wanted to write more, so I started freelance writing. But it was a lot of marketing-type writing, which I don’t particularly enjoy. I decided that I would join a coding bootcamp. I’d been interested in web development ever since I was a project manager and worked with engineers often. I completed the coding bootcamp being comfortable with technologies including¬† JavaScript, MySQL, and I also independently taught myself Python.

When it comes down to it, I’m a writer who likes to code. It’s more important than ever for technical writers to know how to code. That might sound like a bold statement, and make some writers unsettled. I know, you already have a specialization and that’s writing. But if you want to be a technical writer, what’s going to set you apart is learning why software operates the way it does. Writing is not just about teaching and conveying. It’s also about experiencing and experimenting. If writers stay in their writing bubble, there’s always going to be a buffer between them and engineers.

At my past two positions as a technical writer, my goal has been to move documentation to code. And to actually do that. Not to push that responsibility onto developers.

What a Technical Writer Does.

Traditionally, a technical writer interacts with people who are knowledgeable about a product. They collect information and use that to construct manuals, guides, and robust documentation. They may do this in a word processor. And sometimes a more tech-savvy individual will review the work for technical accuracy. I think a technical writer should do more. In our technology-driven society, let’s not let writers get left behind. We are important to companies. We make closeted information available; we increase understand and by extension, we encourage strong communication. The role of a technical writer has to be more than delivering word docs. It must involve practices that blend the role of writer and developer.

What a Technical Writer Should Do.

A technical writer should drive a company towards a version-control, code-driven documentation system. In my mind, a technical writer needs to future-proof documentation and make it align with the work method of engineers. We can start to imagine a technical writer as an appendage of the engineering department. Their methodology should be similar, meaning that during the technical writer’s day-to-day, they should be working in an IDE, using git religiously, and thinking about scalability and content design.¬† In order to do this, a technical writer needs to acquire a skill-set that is similar to that of a junior level engineer.