What do technical writers do?

It’s a question often asked of us: “What does a technical writer do?”

We tell people how to do technically complex things, mostly by writing instructions but also by drawing pictures and making movies.

Want to know more? I’m impressed by the write-up in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Thank you Tom Johnson for tweeting the link to the handbook today!

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About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 4 February 2010, in technical writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Hi Sarah

    I have a list of formal and informal resources about what technical writers do on my blog here: http://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/09/09/what-does-a-technical-writer-do/

    –Rhonda

  2. When I’m asked what I do, it usually goes like this:

    Me:
    “I’m a writer.”

    Them:
    “Oh Wow!” (initial excitement as they think I might be someone interesting). “What books have you published? Anything I might have read?”

    Me:
    “Well, mostly I write SDKs with some occasional interface documentation. So if you’re a developer or you use obscure software applications from small third party startups, then you MAY have read my stuff.”

    Them:
    (Rapidly losing interest now).
    “Um, oh, yeah. Huh. I guess someone does have to do that stuff. So where can I find it?”

    Me:
    (Thinking sarcastically, as if you cared to find it).
    “You know when you’re using some software application and you need help figuring something out, so you click the Help icon, or you open the Help menu and click Contents or whatever’s there so that you can open the online help system?”

    Them:
    “Uh… yeah. I did that once. Sure.”

    Me:
    “Well I write those.”

    Them:
    “I wonder if there are any more frozen waffles in the freezer.”

    • LOL writerdood! Yeah, and those are the responses of a polite person. Often the conversation is more like this:

      Me:
      “I’m a technical writer.”

      Them:
      “Oh, that’s interesting. I wonder if there are any more frozen waffles in the freezer.”

  3. Doesn’t it come down to “tech writers translate Geek Speak into User Speak”? :D

    • Heh, yes that’s a good part of it. There’s also a lot more, particularly the creative and investigative aspects of the role. And then there’s the frequent consumption of chocolate. ;)

  4. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been
    doing a little research on this. And he in fact bought me lunch simply because I found it for him.

    .. lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank
    YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to discuss
    this matter here on your website.

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