Technical Writing - Why is it different than other types of writing and when is it needed?

Posted On:


According to an online source, YourDictionary, “Technical writing is a type of writing where the author is writing about a particular subject that requires direction, instruction, or explanation. This style of writing has a very different purpose and different characteristics than other writing styles such as creative writing, academic writing or business writing.”1

You may have some misconceptions, if you have never worked with a technical writer or technical communicator before. A successful technical communicator (TC) does the following for their client however.

  1. Interviews the client and ensures that the client’s requirements are understood. Requirements may include:
    1. When the document or documents need to be delivered
    2. The target audience for the documentation
    3. Whether the documentation will be translated
    4. The anticipated format of the final documentation
    5. Any branding requirements for the documentation
    6. And any other requirements the customer may have
  2. Gathers any existing content and resource material about the particular subject or equipment.
  3. Determines who the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are who will need to technically review the documentation.
  4. Reviews the information, or works with the equipment, to develop a task analysis. This is where the discrete process steps are determined.
  5. Develops an outline.
  6. Develops a prototype, or draft, document. This document may include major headings, sub-headings, and possibly some screen captures or illustrations at first, but may not contain much text.
  7. Reviews the outline, prototype or draft document, and the draft plan for the project with the client.
  8. Incorporates any and all client review changes to those documents.

This is when the planning phase ends and the real work begins. The TC will write the first draft. That draft will go through an edit cycle and a technical review with the SMEs. The TC will incorporate any changes required.

Based on the nature of the project and the client’s needs, the number of writing, editing, and review cycles can vary.

  • Depending on the product or project being documented, the documentation may also be tested at internal and external customer sites during these cycles.
  • Necessary documentation changes or additions will be revealed during the tests, and the TC will make those changes and submit the document to an SME for final technical review.

The final touches are put on the documentation before it is published. They are:

  1. A final edit
  2. Edits incorporated
  3. Title and copyright pages, Table(s) of Contents, and an index or indexes incorporated
  4. Final proofread and quality check
  5. Covers, binding, and/or packaging added

If the documents are being translated, the finalized files are sent to translation at the very end of development. If a more iterative, or agile, approach is being used for documentation development, the final sections are sent to translation when completed.

Documentation processes have evolved, been streamlined, and made more cost-effective over time. Technical documentation is not always delivered in hardcopy format now. Other documentation development approaches have developed, which we will cover in a future blog.


About the Author

Sandra Glanton is the owner and managing consultant of Projects Accomplished! She spent 10 years writing technical documentation for a local multinational corporation. She has spent the last five years offering her technical writing skills to her clients. She can be reached at  or (585) 230-0649.

Posted in: Small Business
Tagged: Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), technical communicator, technical writing