Become a Great Technical Writer
even if you are not a great writer

Are you contemplating or beginning a career in technical writing? Have you been asked to create the user guide for your company's software application? Have you been asked to hire and manage a writer?

Where do you begin? How can you get an interview when you have no experience? How do you know if the technical writer on your team is doing a good job or a poor one? Can you find out before you hire the person?

Technical writers (known as technical authors in the United Kingdom) translate and organize complex information into user guides that any person can understand and use with ease. But in the 20 years that I have been in the business, I have often found myself working with writers who do not really know how to write manuals or use the desktop publishing software, and with clients who are not entirely sure what to expect from writers. More often, I have had to clean up a documentation mess left behind by a previous writer. This asymmetry between expectation and output can create technical writers who unknowingly make the same costly mistakes year after year, and companies who regard technical writers as a high-cost, low-value drain on the company's bottom line.

This site, whether you are a manager or a technical writer, will get you all working on the same page. If you are a writer, you will see that technical writing requires skills other than the ability to write. In fact, it is possible to write great user guides even if you are not a great writer. You don't need to spell perfectly (I don't), and you don't need to know the difference between a dangling participle and a dangling gerund. But although you don't have to be a great writer, you will probably be happier in the job if you like writing and are a competent writer. If you find it difficult to organize your thoughts and put them down in writing, you might find the job boring, unpleasant, and unrewarding.

In fact, writing is only a fraction of what you will do as a technical writer. This site, therefore, does not show you how to become a great writer—many other sites exist to help you with your grammar and style—but it does provide you with information, skills, tips, and techniques that can help you become a great technical writer.

Notes For Managers
If you are a manager, this site shows you what you can expect from the technical writers on your team. Although this site speaks mainly to the writer, you will easily be able to develop from the information provided your own expectations and requirements for your writers. This site will also help you distinguish between good and bad technical writing and it will tell you what to look for when hiring a writer. In particular, you should read the first three articles below.


Hiring a Technical Writer
Hiring a technical writer can be tricky, even if you happen to be one. Where can you find a technical writer? What characteristics should you look for? How can you tell the good writers from the bad?
Getting a Technical Writing Job, Even If You Have No Experience
Technical writing jobs can be hard to get if you have no experience. Here are things you can do to improve your chances of getting hired.
A Technical Writing Career ... Information for Writers and Employers
What can you expect from a career in technical writing? The answer depends on whether you are a freelance writer or an employee, a lone technical writer or part of a writing team.
Audience Analysis for Technical Writers
Audience analysis often proceeds more from guesswork than from an in-depth inquiry into the mind and activities of the user. Here's how to analyze your audience the easy way.
Subject-Matter Experts (SMEs)
Subject-matter experts (SMEs) really are our friends, patiently answering all of our questions. Here are a couple of questions you should never ask a SME.
Common Errors in Technical Writing
Inexperienced technical writers make many mistakes, such as parroting the SME or hard-coding xrefs. Here's a list of typical errors and how to avoid them.
The Technical Writing Process
Provides a breakdown of the steps in the technical writing process.
A Visual Guide to Document Design and Layout
When designing your documentation, don't neglect to include these standard elements.
How to Write Glossaries
A good glossary is hard to write, mainly because some definitions require so much research. Even so, you should always include a glossary in your technical documentation.
How to Write Copyright Pages
A well-designed user guide contains a copyright page, which provides copyright information for your company's products as well as for any third-party products mentioned in your document.
Editing Your Own Documentation
This article describes how to find errors in your documentation.
Technical Writing Courses
Provides information about education for technical writers, even if there are no technical writing courses in your area.
Technical Writing Books
Describes books that will help you succeed in your technical writing career.
About Docsymmetry
Provides information about Docsymmetry, my areas of expertise, and information about hiring me.
Contact Docsymmetry
Contact information for Docsymmetry.