A technical writer goes by different names: documentation specialist, technical illustrator, information writer and technical communicator. No matter the title a technical writer is foremost a communicator.
What do they communicate? They don't write articles in a journalistic fashion. They don't write persuasive copy as a copywriter would. Technical writers use their creativity to convey information about products in a non-technical way.
Technical writers are employed within the IT departments of all industries like banking, sciences even non-profits.
In the early days, technical writers were programmers who wrote documentation for the IT department's use. Their writing scope expanded into other departments. They were called upon to create:
⁃ Software instructions into user guides.
⁃ Detailed product sheets for the marketing.
⁃ Training manuals for customers and employees.
⁃ Posts for internal intranets and websites.
⁃ Articles for company newsletters.
⁃ Wrote the required texts for software elements like Help files and error messages.
Unlike others in the writing profession, a technical writer doesn't get a byline, get published or receive much credit outside of the company. It's also a career that's undergoing some change.
In the last decade technical writing has morphed into technical communications or information architecture. This has expanded the kinds of work they produce.
⁃ Define the structure and taxonomy of internal digital libraries.
⁃ Create programs for E-Learning projects.
⁃ Write content for public-facing websites.
⁃ Proofread documents for logic, content and product errors.
The job requirements of a technical writing has become less about pure technical skills like programming. It has become more specialized into its own writing niche.
A technical writer must have more technical knowledge than a copywriter or journalist in order to understand technical information. They must be proficient in specialized software and methodologies.
A tech writer must know HTML at minimum. They must be proficient in Adobe programs like InDesign, FrameMaker and Photoshop. They must be able to use RoboHelp and Help and Manual to generate help files which would be used inside actual software products, CDs and websites. They must understand software methodology and concepts like the Agile development method or Unified Modeling Language (UML).
There are now degree programs in technical communications. The best source for education and training information is the Society for Technical Communications (STC). Information architecture is an emerging career path for those interested in the design aspects of online communities, content management and data curation.
Technical communication is a specific niche. Overall, the profession continues to change. It is now being infused with elements of usability and user experience. The best news is that technical writing is a skill that blends easily into other careers. It's a skill that will always be valuable.