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Last updated 2023-06-11 14:11:46

Who Is A Software Technical Writer? (Q&A)

Table of contents

Who is a software technical writer?

who is a tech writer? [→]

Technical writers as a general term refer to someone responsible for creating instruction manuals, guides, and walkthroughs explaining how to use a product, technical terms, and concepts.

In the context of software, technical writers are responsible for providing and maintaining documentation, guides, tutorials, etc on how to use, integrate or build upon a piece of software.

What do technical writers do?

What do technical writers do? [→]

Software technical writers work in software companies. The type of software these companies produce as well as their customers vary in nature, this affects what and who technical writers document them for.

For example, a payment processing company produces payment software for other companies to integrate into their own software to process payments.

In this case, a technical writer will most likely be creating documentation and educational content to help third-party developers to integrate the company's product (payment gateway) [→] into their apps.

There are other instances where technical writers document software used internally. This is software where there are no external users but rather used internally. The technical writer's task in this case is to document the software so other members of the software development team know how to install and use them if not contribute to its development as well.

Although in some companies, software engineers are responsible for creating and maintaining the documentation themselves, for larger fast-paced software companies, a technical writer is brought on board to take ownership of the documentation.

This type of technical writing happens within large software companies like gaming.

In summary, a technical writer is responsible for the creation and maintenance of documentation [→], guides, tutorials, and sometimes blog posts as well as white papers [↗].

What does a technical writer's day look like?

What does a technical writers day look like? [→]

A technical writer's goal is to distill information from the creators of a piece of software (subject matter experts [↗]), organize and polish this information and present them to its intended audience in the form of a documentation, whitepaper, blog post, tutorial, etc. There are also responsible for its continued maintenance.

In other to achieve this the job of the technical writer starts with them having a conversation with a subject matter expert. This is someone who knows enough about the software in question to provide the technical writer with answers to their questions.

The goal of the technical writer at this point, is to understand what the end-user of the software needs to know in other to use the software. They then proceed to gather further details, this might even involve the technical writer testing out the software themselves.

Armed with enough information, the technical writer then plans out the best way to present this information to the intended audience. They decide which information is best suited to be a documentation, guide, tutorial as well as the information architecture [↗] to use, etc.

They then plan out their work and writing process. During or after the creation of the content, it will be shared with various stakeholders such as the subject matter expert, product owners, fellow technical writers, or even sometimes legal for review.

Different aspects of the documentation are double-checked, including grammar, technical accuracy, how it affects existing content, etc.

Once documentation is up, the technical writer remains responsible for making sure it's up to date with the software changes.

These days many companies adopt the Docs As Code [→] approach when it comes to the documentation publishing process.

Do note that depending on where and what they work on a technical writer's task may vary greatly.

What qualifications do technical writers need?

What qualifications do technical writers need? [→]

There are no official qualifications required to be a technical writer.

There are however some career backgrounds that improve your chances of being a good fit.

  • Computer engineering / IT background: Since you will be documenting tech products it helps if you have some kind of IT background as this helps with distilling information from subject matter experts.

  • Education background: This one arguably is a much stronger background compared to IT because being able to relay information to its intended audience beats being able to understand it but not being able to explain it.

  • English Major: This ties in a little bit to the above point. Most software documentation is written in English and being articulate and expressive in the language comes in handy. With that being said I don't believe having a degree in English equates to being articulate in the language.

Also, with the above being said, the good news is most of the skills you will need as a technical writer can be learned outside of a classroom setting and over time even as you work.

Now let's go ahead and look at some actual skills needed.

What do you have to know as a technical writer?

What do you have to know as a technical writer? [→]

Having some level of technical know-how, enough to test out the software.

Understanding the domain or industry in which the software company operates. For example, if the company provides software within the e-commerce space it might be worth understanding more about that industry.

A grasp of the English language or language in which you will be writing documentation in.

Ability to explain concepts

More specific skills include:

Note that even within the same company there are different levels of technical know-how required depending on which part of the product you need to document.

For example, a product like Google Docs [↗] has How-To Guides [↗] which requires very little coding-related skills to prepare and relies more on the ability of the technical writer to explain concepts in the simplest way possible.

Then you have documentation meant for developers [↗], which requires a bit of coding-know how and explanations to be as accurate as possible.

What tools do technical writers typically work with?

What tools do technical writers typically work with? [→]

Here is a list of tools technical writers use on a day-to-day basis:

How much do technical writers earn?

How much do technical writers earn? [→]

Let's talk money!

Technical writing in itself is a tech job, one that requires some level of technical know-how and as such commands an above-average wage.

As of the time of writing the wage range for a technical writer ranges starts from $60,000 well into six figures with these numbers heavily affected by location, experience, and industry.

For example, the US has some of the highest paying [↗] openings.

5 years of general experience or even better within a specific industry also leass to higher wages.

Also, industries such as cyber-security generally pay more.

What are some examples of companies that employ technical writers?

What are some examples of companies that employ technical writers? [→]

  • Stripe [↗]: provides payment processing solutions and as such has technical writers who prepare documentation on how to integrate their technology.
  • Google [↗]: has a host of different products ranging from Workspace products [↗] to Chrome extensions [↗] all of which require technical writers to prepare documentation.
  • Meta [↗]: like Google also has a host of products ranging from the ReactJS [↗] library and general documentation for WhatsApp [↗] and Instagram API documentation [↗].
  • Sentry [↗]: provide tooling that helps developers figure out what might go wrong with their apps as end users use them. You can imagine they will need technical writers to prepare the documentation these developers follow to integrate the tool into their apps.
  • Vonage [↗]: provides communication integrations for developers and technical writers document them.
  • Namecheap [↗]: provides domain name services and other hosting solutions and as such create general tech and business article to drive traffic. Although their writers are branded as content creators, we can safely label those who create their technical content as technical writers.
  • Digital Ocean [↗]: has an interesting setup, they do have internal technical writers preparing documentation for their hosting and cloud solutions but also run an open writing program [↗] where technical writers get paid for submitting blog posts and tutorials.

What are some of the pros of being a technical writer?

What are some of the pros of being a technical writer? [→]

  • Potential to earn an above-average wage
  • higher chances of maintaining a work-life balance. (There are no concepts of bugs [→] to keep you working long hours)
  • Ability to pick up side gigs. Given the good work-life balance and the many open writing programs [↗] out there, you can easily make extra income.
  • Lots of learning opportunities. Given you interact with subject matter experts and document software, you are constantly learning something new which includes industry-specific knowledge.
  • One of the career paths that can help you easily transition into software engineering.
  • If you enjoy teaching, technical writing is a good fit.
  • If you prefer not to interact directly with customers, technical writing is a good choice.

What are some of the cons of being a technical writer?

What are some of the cons of being a technical writer? [→]

  • You sometimes end up depending on people such as subject matter experts to get your work done. It can be challenging if they are not forthcoming.
  • In some companies where developers are not the main customers, technical documentation might be thought of as an axillary or secondary arm and might not get the needed attention.
  • If you are not coming from a technical background, you might struggle from time to time when it comes to understanding some of the technical concepts.

Do technical writers work in other languages?

Do technical writers work in other languages? [→]

Most technical documentation is prepared and presented in English. This is because most software development on the international stage is done in English.

However, if a piece of software focuses on a local market you might find its documentation written in the local language.

Documentation might also be translated for specific markets. These are usually large markets where English is not widely spoken. The documentation alongside the software itself in this case is adjusted to fit the cultural context of that market.

A good example is the Japanese market which for example has a bit of a different web design and content placements compared to the rest of the world.

Do you have to know how to code as a technical writer?

Knowing how to code is not necessarily a requirement for becoming a technical writer.

However, understanding the software engineering landscape and being able to read a bit of code goes a long way.

You can get started with a little bit of technical knowledge and build up as you go.

Also, you will quickly find out as you move between companies, you will always have to deal with new technical requirements and most companies understand this and give technical writers the space and time they need to learn about the technology and tooling surrounding their product.

Who will make a good technical writer?

A good technical writer has the right balance of curiosity, articulation, and a desire to teach and learn.

Can I get into software engineering by starting as a technical writer?

Absolutely! As you interact with software engineers within your work setting you get a sense of what software engineers work on and have to know. Over time you can begin getting deeper and deeper into the technical side of things.

Also, you can get started in your software engineering career right within your current company. It's a lot easier since you are already familiar with the product.

What does a technical writer's career progression look like?

There are many directions you can take your career:

  • You can progress upward towards becoming a senior technical writer up to management level where you oversee a technical writing team.
  • You can progress by branching into other software-related fields such as software testing or software engineering.
  • You can work your way into becoming a subject matter expert if you work long enough within a specific industry.
  • You can also break out on your own into becoming a freelance technical writer.
  • You could also leave the technical side of things and branch into other forms of writing, like legal writing, UX writing, or general content writing within an industry you are familiar.

What does a technical writing job interview look like?

Typically software companies will be interested in evaluating your writing and technical skills.

This is usually assessed by looking at the content you have previously worked on or by asking you to prepare new content based on their product.

Interviewers will also sometimes ask about tools you are familiar with to see if you already use some of the tools they use.

Your goal in these interviews is to prove your ability to convey product information to its audience and also be able to quickly bridge your knowledge gap over time.

Can I work remotely as a technical writer?

Just like most tech-related positions, most companies offer remote roles for technical writers.

How do I get into technical writing?

I will encourage you to read my piece on "becoming a technical writer" [→] 😊.

Here is another article you might like 😊 "5 terms to know as a technical writer [part 1]"