“So you write technical manuals for software, isn’t that really boring?”
“I bet you’re really pedantic about grammar, punctuation and spelling aren’t you?”
Well the latter is true to an extent but we’d all heartily disagree with the first statement here in the office.
You have to be thorough and pedantic, to a degree, when it comes to spelling, grammar and punctuation otherwise the work we do just looks unprofessional. Our Technical Writing training course, run by a 20-year veteran of the business, looks at writing styles, use of punctuation and some golden rules to remember. However, that doesn’t mean technical writing is boring or lacking in creativity and it certainly isn’t always deeply technical either.
So what are some of the common misconceptions associated with technical writing? This is my opportunity to dispel some of those myths and put forward a case in favour of this wonderful profession.
#1 Technical writing is boring and lacks in creativity.
People think that all we do is write and all we write about is how to carry out tasks in pieces of software. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Technical writing can cover pretty much any topic you can think of, if something needs instructions, we’ll create a piece of technical writing to cover it. We have covered a vast array of subjects as a team and will continue to do so. As long as something needs instructions, we’ll write them.
The creativity comes in on trying to keep a reader engaged. How can I turn an extremely dry set of instructions into something that someone will want to read? That in itself is a big challenge of our job and something we often share ideas about around the office. Some of the examples that we have created as a team can be found here.
#2 You need to be really technical and IT savvy to become a technical writer.
Half of our team are from a technical background while the other half came into this job through different career paths, including HR and teaching.
The word ‘technical’ in the job title points more towards the style of writing than the person you need to be to do this job. In fact, in some cases, it helps if you’re not all that tech-savvy. Technical writing is about developing technical instructions on how to carry out tasks for all kinds of users. The writing will be for those who could carry out the instructions in their sleep through to those that don’t know the difference between single-click and double-click. If, as a Technical Writer, you know the software inside-out and can’t understand how anyone else couldn’t be on the same level as you, you lose some ability to write for the non-tech-savvy users. Sure, some confidence using a computer and the Internet to do your research will help, but it’s not the most essential aspect of the job. Being able to convey information in a professional, clear manner is a far more important characteristic for a Technical Writer.
#3 Technical writers don’t get paid all that much.
How many times do you hear people making judgements about a particular career’s average salary? According to Prospects (http://www.prospects.ac.uk/technical_author_salary.htm) a Junior Technical Author can expect in the range of £20k while an experienced Technical Author can earn up to £50k. Payscale (http://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Job=Technical_Writer/Salary) state that the average salary for a Technical Writer in the UK is £27, 336. Compare this to the UK’s average of £25, 584 (http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-kingdom/wages) and it fairs rather well.
#4 Technical writing has a very rigid structure.
Ok, so maybe this one is true, to an extent. It makes sense to put instructions in a logical order, using a structure that will make sense to the user. After all, a user wants to be able to search for what they want and find it as quickly as possible. However, within that structure, there is still the opportunity to be creative and find more and more interesting ways to engage the reader and keep them reading. Is there an innovative new way to present the information? What can we use to break up the instructions into more manageable chunks?
#5 As a Technical Writer, all you do is write.
Writing isn’t enough on its own. You’d soon switch off and lose interest if you were just reading reams and reams of text. So part of our job is to create and edit graphics to help illustrate the instructions that we’re writing.
Our team have created technical illustrations from scratch, graphics for e-Learning modules, illustrations for fliers, brochures and manuals, templates and layouts for documentation and our own website. We have also had to manipulate existing software packages to fit bespoke client projects.
We are not just writers, we are content creators.
Are there any misconceptions that you have come across? If so, how have you responded?