Skills Needed for Good Technical Writing

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Dragos
Founder, robot with feelings. From planet Aiur.

We explain seven technical writing skills essential for educating your audience.

📚 Table of contents

You might be a CEO of a small company looking to start writing your company’s technical documentation or select a person fit for the job.

Or perhaps you’re working for a bigger company wondering what skills to look for in the perfect candidate for your new technical writer.

If you’re any of those, you’ve found it! We’ll explain seven skills needed for quality technical writing that will help you educate your audience.

Let’s dive right into them!

Good Product Knowledge

Before even drafting the document, your writers need to have a good grasp of the subject matter.

Experienced technical writers like Yuri Lee agree: to be able to explain something, you have to understand it first.

Source: Twitter

Without this fundamental knowledge of the product or the technology, the end result—the content they produce—won’t be as good.

An in-depth understanding of the topic at hand allows the writers to simplify and explain complex matters in the form of easily digestible content.

We’re all good at something and can tell whether a speaker or a writer understands what we do.

The same applies to your audience, especially if they are experts: they will know if you know what you’re talking about.

A writer who doesn’t understand the concepts they’re mentioning will miss critical talking points, and fail to deliver on the promise of educating the target audience.

Tom Johnson, Google’s tech writer, goes a step further than Lee and says that technical writers must have three types of knowledge to be good at what they do: product, technical, and user knowledge.

Source: I’d Rather Be Writing

In other words, the writer should understand the product, the technology behind it, and the target audience.

Only then will the content explain the product well using the technical terms for the field in question while also adjusting the text to the audience's need.

Ability to Write Clearly and Concisely

Another skill the person writing your tech documents should have is the ability to be clear and concise in writing.

Some experts might know the intricacies of a process or a piece of technology—but if they cannot express these details in a way the general public understands, they are not the right choice for creating customer-oriented technical documents.

On the other hand, if you’re writing something for experienced readers, the expert might be a great fit.

In general, technical writing is the art of translating technical knowledge into easily-digestible information.

Complicated terms have to be expressed in such a way that almost anyone can grasp them. Otherwise, your end-users might not get anything out of the content you’ve created.

An excellent way to make content simple is to look for complicated sentences and structures when editing and do your best to eliminate them.

A tool that can help you stay clear and understandable is the Hemingway Editor.

Source: Hemingway App

The app suggests edits and marks the sentences that might be difficult to understand for your readers. It also lets you determine the readability of your text.

Clearly, it’s best to avoid jargon and stick to terms everyone might understand, so as not to alienate the audience.

When your writer understands the product, they can go on to write clearly about it.

For example, if we wanted to create a bad user guide for Archbee’s customer blocks feature, we could just say: Archbee lets you add blocks like lists, checklists, API, and videos.

The sentence explains what the feature does, but it doesn’t merely give you information on how to use it.

Source: Archbee

Instead, we explain why you should add the blocks and what these blocks are and then demonstrate how our users can pick and choose between all the offered blocks through a gif.

Even though the information provided explains how to perform the action, it’s not complicated to understand, and it’s pretty short, making the content clear and concise.

Proficiency with Document Publishing Tools

A good technical writer knows their way around tech writing tools.

When a technical writer finishes a piece of content and someone revises it, they should be knowledgeable enough to upload the content to the documentation software of choice so that your customers and employees can access it.

If you use some of the advanced technical documentation tools, like Archbee, your writer will be able to do all of this and more through a single piece of software.

Source: Archbee Youtube

It would be ideal if the writer could properly setup the written document: format it correctly, organize it to the appropriate folder, and check all the settings.

Some documents might be intended solely for your employees, which means someone should upload them to the correct folder and limit access to employees only if it’s a public knowledge base.

However, if you have a company wiki where some sections are private and some public, your writer or the person uploading should ensure the correct files get published so the general audience can access them.

Source: Archbee

Whichever documentation tool you opt for, make sure your technical writer learns its in and outs and how you intend them to use it.

Logical Writing

Good technical writing is logical. The writer understands how the reader wants to get information and presents it to them in that order while ensuring the data is presented clearly.

Hurley Write posted an excellent example of information being given without making the necessary connections between the facts.

In the original content, the writer talked about the company and then moved on to a new method of manufacturing widgets.

Source: Hurley Write

The experts at Hurley Write rewrote the paragraph to convey the same information but simply rearranged it to make more sense for the reader who’s not familiar with the company or the new feature.

Therefore, being logical when writing means giving enough context to the data you’re presenting.

Logic and common sense will also help the writer figure out how to present the information.

More complex matters might be best expressed through media like videos or graphics, while simple details work with basic writing.

For example, we wanted to highlight the fantastic search analytics function of Archbee. On the left, we gave a short description of the feature.

Source: Archbee

Instead of going into detail and giving a step-by-step written introduction on how to use the feature, we used a gif that demonstrates how to look up something through the search bar, get the results, and enter the search analytics section, which shows all the relevant data.

Why did we do this? In the case of a technology process, the writing needs to be sequential and follow the process step by step, explaining each one.

If you skip a step or don’t explain everything from the start, not everyone will get the same result, making your guide pointless.

Advanced Research Skills

A good technical writer is a great researcher, whether they’re an expert in the field or not.

Writing tech documents always involves research, even if you know everything there is to know about the product.

After all, a big part of the research process is understanding the audience, what questions they might have, and how to even translate the meaning into something they would appreciate.

Technical writers and other writing professionals understand the importance of researching the audience, including what they do and don’t already know.

Source: Quora

What the writers learn this way will impact the finished product’s style, simplicity, and extensiveness.

Of course, if the writer isn’t an expert in the tech they are writing about, they will also have to research the product at hand. In that case, it’s up to you to make this easy.

Finding information about the way the technology works in general terms will usually be relatively straightforward, as this is something they can look up online.

However, learning about the particulars of your specific product might be a bit more tricky.

The simplest way to enable the writer to research your product is to upload all its related content to a company knowledge base.

Source: Archbee

A knowledge base is a company-wide document repository that you should regularly update and monitor to ensure the data is correct and current.

That way, you can ensure that your team and writers have access to current information.

When you give writers access to this KB, you allow them insight into the product, making their research easy.

They should be able to read all the files on the specific products, including notes left by your team.

Source: Archbee

Often, these notes and comments give additional information which the writer can use in their content to explain a complicated concept.

A good writer will know how to use the original content, comments, annotations, and possible updates to create something that informs the reader.

Being Good at Single-Sourcing

A good technical writer is great at single-sourcing, i.e., using the same source to create different types of content.

A single-sourcing approach to technical writing presumes the creation of one base document your writer then uses to create more supporting documentation.

The writer repurposes the original file repeatedly, depending on the needs of the audience and the format at hand.

Source: CSoft

For instance, your writer might get developer notes on a new product you’re about to launch.

Their job is to write a user guide for the customers and one for your teams, who will be reporting potential issues to the IT team and solving customer problems.

These two target audiences cannot use the same manual.

The customers don’t need to know how you internally report issues, and your team doesn’t need to read about the very basics of the product.

Therefore, your writer must create different versions of the same file, adjusted to diverse audiences.

Moreover, using a single source makes creating content easier. Instead of starting anew with each document, the writers can use the main file and edit it to suit the readers’ needs.

By doing this, the writers save more time than they would when starting from scratch.

Single-sourcing content can also use reusable variables and content snippets, available through documentation software like Archbee.

Source: Archbee Youtube

This option allows you to create an information container and insert it into different documents so you can build on the existing data.

This way, your writer once again uses the same source of information to create content, thus saving time and energy.

Source: Archbee

When your writer has to use repetitive expressions or terms, they can link the variable instead of defining these phrases whenever they mention them.

The writer doesn’t have to write the same thing repeatedly but can simply insert the definition into the text.

Clearly, single-sourcing can help your writers create content and save time.

Graphic Design Basics

Technical writing also often includes using graphs, tables, or diagrams that will visually present some information and make it easier to comprehend.

Readers expect to be well-guided in technical documentation, with everything right at hand. That's why technical docs today often contain some form of technical illustrations.

Sometimes, all you they need are product screenshots, but in some cases, they benefit from knowing some graphic design basics.

If they’re explaining a complicated term, writers can always include a link to a video that describes it in a minute or two to break the monotony of reading.

After all, most people prefer watching an instructional video over text or audio.

The bottom line is that your writer should know how to use different media types to their advantage and create great, informative content.

Conclusion

A technical writer will help you translate the complex possibilities of your technology products into something that the general public or subject matter experts can understand and learn from.

Therefore, the person who will do your tech writing needs to be someone who does good research and knows your product well, while also having the skills necessary to keep the content clear and concise.

This means that they should be able to understand how to write logically, but also have some other more technical skills, such as understanding the basics of graphic design and having a grasp of the most common writing tools.

Moreover, they should be able to use a single source of knowledge to generate content.

A combination of these skills will ensure that their writing serves the needs of your target audience.

The finished product needs to present your readers with relevant information in a way that doesn’t leave them with more questions than answers, regardless of their prior knowledge.