Many people do not understand why most companies need a Technical Writer. Contrary to what some colleges think technical writers do, a company does not hire them to write articles for a newsletter or website, reports, transcripts of courtroom testimony, or scientific articles. So, to understand what makes a good one, you need to understand what Technical Writers produce, and how to produce that content correctly.
Why companies hire a Technical Writer
When they release a product to the market, a company must include instructions and directions for using it. If customers can’t easily use a software application, medical device, pump, machine, or piece of equipment, they won’t like it. Word will get around that it`s hard to use.
What a customer looks for in instructions and directions
When a person working at a fracking site does not know how to start, control, or stop a pump, he or she looks for an instruction booklet. (Today, they Google how to do a particular thing with the pump. Our technical writers ensure that the instructions come up on Google.)
If they successfully find instructions, what do they look like?
Answer: like a recipe in a cook book. Recipes have a heading for a particular task, such as making a pot roast. That heading is followed by numbered-step directions:
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Pat the beef dry and sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper.
- Roast until a meat thermometer reads 135 degrees.
The pump operator at a mine does not want to have to wade through a lot of pages, or any long paragraphs. He or she needs a heading, like “Start the pump,” or “Control the flow.” Then, he wants numbered steps, with photos showing the location of controls.
That is what a good Technical Writer gives them—and only that. The Writer does not waste their time and patience making them read anything else.
The software user guide
Let’s say you produce a software application that helps companies like Sears schedule, monitor, track service technicians, generate their route for the day, log their visit, and time spent at a site. The people who have to use this software (especially if they are brand new to it) also need task headings (“Enter a new appointment”), followed by the same numbered-step directions, this time accompanied by a picture of a screen, showing where to enter something. A good Technical Writer gives them directions that look like a recipe in a cookbook.
Today, people make software applications to solve any business problem, like figuring out why Amazon Web Services charged what they did. The people who use that software (Web-based today), also need instructions and directions, written by a Technical Writer.
The API guide
Many companies now sell chunks of computer code called application program interfaces, or APIs. Like other users, the programmer who must deal with these APIs needs instructions and directions. A Technical Writer explains how to integrate the API into other programs, when, where, how, and why to use a particular API.
How to tell if a Technical Writer knows how to produce good directions
When we qualify a Technical Writer, before sending him or her to you, we ask to see instructions and directions they wrote, for another, similar company.
If the candidate does not have such writing samples (a portfolio), they probably have not ever produced task-based headings and numbered steps. We do not send you any candidate who cannot show that they have mastered the unique, specialized writing that good technical writers produce.