What is Technical Writing?

Published: April 2024

Are you writing an instruction manual for computer software? Do you need online articles for a marketing campaign? Then you need someone who knows about technical writing to turn complex technical information into something straightforward and mainstream. 

The point of technical writing is to inform, educate, and ultimately engage the public and bring it to your business. Good technical documents will shine through; bad ones will discredit your business. 

Technical Writing Basics

Manuals, user guides, standard operating procedures, and white papers are all classified as technical writing. What do they have in common? They communicate instructions and information to users so they understand the task or the subject. 

Technical writing is meant to help users understand a topic that might be complicated or that they don’t know much about. How do you set up a printer if you have never done it before? How do you find solutions to a problem if you don’t know much about the problem in the first place? That’s where technical writing comes in place. 

Technical writing is about manuals, help guides, white papers, design specifications, project plans, software documentation, and much more. It’s not enough to just write directions and how-to steps. Effective technical writers must understand the topic they are writing about and also know their audience. The point is for the documentation to meet the users’ needs, otherwise it’s pointless. 

What Makes Good Technical Writing?

Technical writing is a class on its own. Through years of training and practicing, technical writers learn how to create and edit content that is informative and accessible. So, what makes good technical writing?  

Technical writing must be clear

A technical writer uses straightforward language to convey ideas. This means avoiding jargon or, when technical terms are necessary, defining them clearly. Technical terms should be used when no other layman term can be used. You are talking to a public that has no deep understanding of the topic so make it clear. 

Technical writing is accurate

Accuracy is non-negotiable in technical writing. The information presented must be correct and up-to-date. Inaccurate information leads to misunderstandings, misuse of products, or even safety hazards. To that end, technical writers often collaborate closely with subject matter experts. 

Technical writing is concise

Smart ideas come in small packages. Technical writing respects the reader’s time and avoids detail. It focuses on essential information that is digestible and engaging. Nobody likes to read pages upon pages of information so you need to focus on what your readers need. 

Consistency is also important, both in the use of terminology and in the document’s format and style. You want to avoid confusion.

Technical writing is organized

There is a logical structure to technical writing, often in an intuitive way. The reader is guided through the content in a coherent way and almost knows beforehand what’s coming next. 

This often involves the use of headings, bullet points, and numbered lists to break down information into manageable chunks. Otherwise, clear paragraph structures and section headings organize the content in a clear and visible way. Readers will get a picture of your content at a glance. 

Technical writing is made for the user

A white paper on next year’s financial growth of a company is aimed at shareholders. A printer manual will be used by people actively installing a printer. 

Technical writing is designed with the audience’s knowledge level, needs, and challenges in mind. This should include examples, illustrations, and step-by-step instructions geared towards the reader’s perspective.  

Overall, the success of technical writing hinges on its ability to make complex information understandable. That’s how the user will accomplish a task or understand a concept.

Who Needs Technical Writing?

While manuals first come to mind, technical writing goes beyond manuals. At the core, technical writing is for end-users or consumers who rely on clear instructions and explanations to use products or services effectively. This includes everything from assembling furniture to operating software or understanding the safety procedures for a piece of machinery.

Technical fields

Professionals within technical fields, such as engineers, scientists, healthcare providers, and IT specialists depend on technical writing to share and get knowledge about their industry.  

For these individuals, technical documents like research reports, journal articles, and design specifications are tools to boost their work. If they want to be at the cutting edge of their industry, they should know about the latest innovations.

Companies and organizations

Companies and organizations use technical writing to support their products and services. They give customers access to the information needed to use their products correctly and safely. Think of do-it-yourself furniture assembly, computer manuals, and how to install a dishwasher in your kitchen. 

Well-written manuals, FAQs, and help guides improve customer satisfaction and reduce support calls. That’s how a business boosts its overall user experience and maximizes efficiency. 

Regulatory areas

Businesses in highly regulated sectors like pharmaceuticals, finance, and manufacturing, must create precise and compliant documentation to avoid legal issues and to support ethical operations. In these areas, technical writing is important for drafting policies, procedures, and documentation. The goal is to meet legal and industry standards. 


Educational institutions and e-learning platforms also rely on technical writing to create educational materials and courses. These are used by students and learners and should be straightforward and accessible. 

Technical Writing at Its Best

Technical writing is a craft: how many times have you found furniture assembly frustrating because the manual is badly written? Let’s see how technical writing can truly become outstanding. 

Know your audience

A children’s author writes for children, with relevant words and messages. A romantic author writes romance for their audience. The same stands true for technical writing. 

Tailor your writing to the audience’s knowledge level and needs. Good technical writers understand who will be reading the document and manage the complexity of the information and how to present it. This might involve using more basic explanations for general audiences or more technical language for expert readers.

Active voice

Active voice makes technical writing more direct and lively. It can also make technical content easier to understand. For example, instead of writing “The experiment was conducted by the researcher,” write “The researcher conducted the experiment.”

Organized content

A well-structured document helps readers understand and follow ideas more easily. There is an overview or summary, then topics in a logical and sequential order with headings, subheadings, and bullets to break up the text and highlight key points. 

Examples and visuals 

Examples, diagrams, screenshots, and other visuals can help clarify complex ideas. They also provide visual breaks in the text. People balk at a long text but they will read something that is broken into chunks with interesting visuals in-between. 

Focus on usability

Technical writing should be informative and easy to use. This can include a navigable table of contents, an index, and consistent formatting throughout the document to help readers find the information they need quickly. 

Revise and edit

Good writing requires revision. Typos and bad grammar are a mark of an amateur. Just like in any other type of writing, technical documents should be revised and edited. Take the time to edit for clarity, coherence, grammar, and technical accuracy. A fresh set of eyes can catch errors or areas of confusion that have been missed. 

Keep up with your field

Technical writing is often subject-specific, so stay informed about the latest developments in your field. You can then become an authority in your industry. This can include reading industry publications, attending conferences, or taking part in professional networks.

Practice regularly

Practice makes perfect. Like any skill, technical writing improves with practice. Look for opportunities to write regularly. Create documents at work, contribute to industry blogs, or even volunteer to write for professional organizations.

Where Do We Use Technical Writing?

Technical writing is all around us. Beyond manuals, which are perhaps the most widely recognized form of technical writing, there are many other examples of technical writing that make life easier. 

User guides and manuals

These provide instructions on how to use a product or service. They can range from simple quick-start guides to comprehensive user manuals for complex software or machinery.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs)

SOPs are detailed, step-by-step instructions designed to help workers carry out complex routine operations. 

Technical reports

They are commonly used in science, engineering, and business to communicate the results of research, survey findings, or to document the progress of projects.

API Documentation

API (Application Programming Interface) documentation explains how to effectively use and integrate with an API, and details the functions, classes, return types, and arguments.

White papers

Often used in business and policy think-tanks, white papers discuss problems and how to solve them. They might even explain a new technology or methodology. They are persuasive and informative, designed to showcase thought leadership or help make decisions.

Help files and online help systems

These are digital documents or systems that provide assistance to users of software, games, or websites. They often include FAQs, troubleshooting information, and detailed topic overviews.

Assembly instructions

Accompanying products that require assembly, these instructions explain how to assemble something in a step-by-step process, often using diagrams or illustrations to clarify each step.

Technical specifications

These documents describe the technical requirements of a product. That means the design, features, and performance criteria. They are found in manufacturing, construction, and software development projects.

Scientific journal articles

Written by researchers and professionals, these articles report on original research or review existing research on a scientific topic. They showcase methodologies, experiments, analyses, and conclusions in a structured format.

Policy manuals

These manuals outline the policies and procedures within an organization. They provide employees with guidelines on the organization’s operations, including security, HR policies, and ethical guidelines.

Maintenance and Repair Manuals

These manuals provide information on the maintenance, troubleshooting, and repair of equipment or machinery.

Technical Documents Make Life Easier

It would be very difficult to assemble a bookcase without the right manual, or to understand how to install an electric appliance at home. No matter the type of work we do, technical documents simplify our lives. 

Technical writing bridges the gap between complex information and the people who need to understand and use that information. Good technical writing simplifies knowledge and presents it in an accessible and user-friendly way, while still doing it justice. Well-written technical documents shine through and reflect on businesses, organizations, and companies. Shoddy ones, as expected, reflect badly. 

If you need help preparing your technical document, we’re here for you. For over 20 years, we’ve been working with technical writers who can write what you need. Contact us today to find out for yourself why TimelyText is a trusted professional writing service and instructional design consulting partner for Fortune 500 companies worldwide!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is technical writing? How does it differ from other forms of writing?

Technical writing is a specialized form of writing that focuses on conveying complex technical information as clearly as possible. It differs from other forms of writing, such as creative writing, in that it is more objective and factual.The goal of technical writing is to inform and instruct, rather than entertain.

What kind of documents do technical writers create?

Technical writers create a wide range of documents, including instruction manuals, user guides, white papers, and standard operating procedures. They may also produce online articles, blog posts, and marketing materials related to technical products or services. From medical documentation to white papers and even the field of marketing, the scope of technical writing is vast. 

What skills are necessary to become a successful technical writer?

Successful technical writers have strong writing skills, including proficiency in English and the ability to communicate complex ideas clearly and concisely. They can also look for detail and they have excellent research abilities. They can adapt their writing style to match different audiences and purposes.

Can anyone become a technical writer, or is a specific background required?

While a background in technical fields such as engineering or computer science can be beneficial, it is not always necessary. Many technical writers come from many educational and professional backgrounds, including English, communications, and journalism. More than anything, you need a willingness to learn about technical subjects and work your magic to translate that knowledge into accessible content.

Are there certifications or training programs available for aspiring technical writers?

Yes, there are certifications and training programs available for aspiring technical writers. Organizations such as the Society for Technical Communication and the American Medical Writers Association offer certification programs that can improve one’s skills and credibility in the field. Additionally, many colleges and universities offer courses and degree programs in technical writing.

What career paths are available for technical writers?

Technical writers can pursue various career paths in industries such as healthcare, technology, manufacturing, and finance. They may work as in-house writers for companies, freelance consultants, or employees of technical writing agencies. Also, some technical writers specialize in specific areas such as medical writing or software documentation.

How can I improve my technical writing skills?

To improve your technical writing skills you need practice and dedication. You can start by reading and studying well-written technical documents to understand the conventions and styles used in the field. Consider taking courses or workshops in technical writing; join professional organizations, and look for feedback from experienced writers. Continuously practice your skills and stay updated on industry trends and best practices to become an excellent technical writer.

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