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What does a Technical Writer Do?

We have the Answer: Step by Step

Technical Writer and Writer Resource Answers

Technical writers do much more than just write. They research, interview, observe work, take pictures and videos of processes being performed, and analyze. They then critically select the proper information in the proper order for the intended audience.


All the above-mentioned steps, except analysis, are frequently grouped together as “data collection” activities. Although the term “data collection” is technically correct, there are different “knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA’s) required for each of these separate activities. Good technical writers have all of these in their toolkits.


Research

Often the technical writer is required to take a barebones outline of the desired topic and do in-depth research. This research may involve extensive reading of existing material and documents, online publications/articles/blogs, and books. Research of this type can often take more time than writing.


Interviews

Although talking to people about their work may sound simple – It is not! If the writer is required to develop an explanatory or “how-to” document, the person being interviewed must be asked the right questions. For example, if you want the subject matter expert (SME) to explain their work, a lead-off question/statement might be, “Start at the beginning (of the process) and tell me what you do.” This provides a beginning point and provides you, the interviewer, an opportunity to ask clarifying questions, such as, “What do you call that?”, or “Why did you do that?”.


NOTE: A good rule of interviewing is, “Listen at least 80-90% of the time and talk only 10-20%.”


Observe Work

Technical Writers will try to schedule time at the workplace when normal processes/procedures are taking place. They do not interrupt the work, rather they take notes, and ask for clarity after the observation is over.


Photos and Videos

The first rule is to always ask or gain permission to take photos or shoot videos in a facility. Many companies have photography and video rules that must be followed. A good smartphone is less cumbersome and can be more effective than a camera.


Action photos or videos with people help the audience identify with the writing. (This can also be a distraction if used too frequently or if the person/people have left the organization). Check for permission to use anyone’s face in the document. Taking photos from multiple angles and distances. This will provide process clarity and help engage the audience.


Analysis

Analysis is the mental process where the technical writer brings all the Technical Writing elements together: the why (purpose), to whom (audience), the information (content), and the how (organization). The technical writer’s understanding of these elements is blended with data collection results to produce clear, concise, and complete document(s).


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