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Ultimate Guide to Technical Writing

Ever thought of turning your professional expertise toward writing? Or perhaps you’ve realized that your company needs a skilled writer who understands the ins and outs of your trade. In either case, it’s time to consider technical writing.

What Is Technical Writing?

Technical writing is the concept of writing about the technical knowledge of an industry—think of content like tutorials and documentation. This is writing that educates readers in the technicalities of a certain discipline or task, often aimed at audiences who have at least some area knowledge themselves.

Technical writing is often B2B or B2C content that is tightly focused on education. How does this tool connect with that tool? Which language is better for this use case? Should a software company rehaul its processes to match the trendy new workflow everyone’s talking about or is the ROI not worth it? It’s less about selling the reader on a product and more about educating them in practically achieving a goal.

This article will focus on technical writing for software engineering specifically, but just about every industry has a need for technical writers to clearly explain its hows and whys.

If You’d Like to Try Technical Writing…

If you’ve been in your industry for a while, you may already have some technical writing pieces to your name without even realizing it. Did you help write documentation for a product you built? Did you add to the blog of a startup you worked for a couple years ago? Gather those links and skip to the next section.

For those who need to start at the beginning when it comes to technical writing, you might want to begin with your own blog, either on your own website or a platform like Medium, jot down some ideas for a couple short blog posts. What could you write 1,000 words about that would be helpful for other software engineers to know more about? What troubleshooting did you recently accomplish that had you piecing together tips from five different forums? Get your thoughts organized, don’t forget to proofread your writing, and get it online.

The only way to be a good writer is to write, so focus on consistency and quantity more than perfection, especially if you’re writing for yourself.

And You’d Like to Get Paid For It

Ready to offer your technical writing services for hire? The good news is that these days, most technical writing opportunities are remote. Consider where you like to get your own industry news online; what are the sites you check first when you need answers? Have you run into a blog or a writer that you particularly trust?

Follow the rabbit trail of links that fan out from your usual haunts, and you’ll see where others are writing for your field. If a writing opportunity looks interesting, learn how the company wants writers to apply. They’ll probably ask for links to any published technical writing you may already have. Definitely have a technical writing cover letter ready to go.

First, Understand What You’re Being Asked to Write

Each content agency, news site, online magazine, and company blog will have its own expectations when it comes to technical writing, so be sure you’re comfortable with what they’re asking you to provide. After all, there’s a difference between writing a tutorial, comparing two or three tools, and composing a roundup of the top twenty JavaScript plug-ins of the year.

Then Be Prepared for Style Guides and Edits

Online publishing is only getting more sophisticated as individual businesses become more comfortable producing their own content. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to adhere to a style guide or if your work goes through some edits.

Most companies with an established marketing department will have their own style guide, but you can get an idea of what you might be asked for in any of these style examples, including from Draft.dev.

The more closely your work sticks to the required style, the less rigorous the edits will be on your writing. Still, you should expect at least one round of edits from whoever you’re writing for. Draft.dev has between three and five rounds of edits per article, encompassing a technical review, a development edit, and a copy edit.

If You Need a Technical Writer…

Technical writing is no joke. It takes attention to detail, a willingness to research, a skilled hand at writing, and the ability to take an edit professionally. Many companies see the need for technical writing but either aren’t large enough to staff their own content creation or would prefer to focus on their core skills and leave the writing to someone else entirely.

And You’d Like to Find a Good One

If your business is looking to establish an ongoing relationship with a freelance technical writer, we’re happy to share our hiring tricks at Draft.dev. Finding the perfect writer for you is a multi-step process—from knowing exactly what you’re looking for to knowing where to look and how to reach out to them—but in the end, you’ll be happy you put in the time and care in your search.

First, Consider What You Need From the Writer

Ideally, you’re looking for someone already experienced in technical writing. They’ve either written consistently on their own bit of internet real estate, or they have at least a few bylines with voices of authority in the industry. Other than that, what you’re looking for in a writer is not necessarily the same as what your competitor might want. Your marketing goals, your client demographic, and the messages you want to convey all make for your own unique wish list.

However, there are some red flags that will probably always warrant a polite no, thank you email from your hiring manager.

Someone who’s written across a wide variety of unrelated industries is probably an experienced content marketer who’s great at research. Chances are you need someone with deeper knowledge. Software engineering in particular doesn’t lend itself to turning quick research into authoritative writing. Other flags to be watchful for include a generally unprofessional attitude (you need this person to be self-motivated and reliable), a lack of familiarity with common online collaboration tools (Google Suite, GitHub), and field experience but too little of it (you don’t want to hand an advanced Kubernetes assignment to someone who finished a code boot camp last week).

Then, Consider What You Need For Your Team

As already mentioned, finding the correct technical writer for your goals takes time. Editing their work and getting it ready for publication on your platform are other time sinks. If your team is better suited to focusing on your core business rather than creating content resources for your audience, consider working with a technical writing service instead.

These services come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so again, take time to get clear about what your own business needs from one of them. Are you looking for a full-service marketing agency, or do you want them to prioritize industry knowledge while you handle the content publication and promotion? Do you want to be one of a few clients for a boutique content agency, or are you looking for something less infinitely customizable and more of a low-code/no-code solution?

Explore the Technical Writing You Need

If you’re a developer interested in getting into technical writing, it might be time for you to apply to write at Draft.dev. If your software company needs to step up its content creation, schedule a call to see if Draft.dev is a good fit for your vision.

Want to learn more before getting in touch with us? Take a stroll through the Writing tags in Draft.dev’s blog. You’ll find a variety of information ready to help you determine where you’d like to go next with technical writing.

Chris Wolfgang

By Chris Wolfgang

Chris Wolfgang was the first editor at Draft.dev. She’s been writing and editing for tech for longer than she would care to remember.