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What is a Technical Writer?


Perhaps the most obtuse way of explaining what a technical writer is to say that the profession is misnamed; the real description should be non-technical writer . In other words, a person who turns technical text into non-technical information.

The US Department of Labor Statistics (DLS) have the following definition of the writing and editing occupations:

" Writers and editors communicate through the written word. Writers and editors generally fall into one of three categories. Writers and authors develop original fiction and nonfiction for books, magazines and trade journals, newspapers, online publications, company newsletters, radio and television broadcasts, motion pictures, and advertisements. Technical writers develop scientific or technical materials, such as scientific and medical reports, equipment manuals, appendices, or operating and maintenance instructions. They also may assist in layout work. Editors select and prepare material for publication or broadcast and review and prepare a writer's work for publication or dissemination. "
The complete definition is available at the DLS Web Site .

It is often incorrectly claimed that the technical writing profession emerged in the 1980s, when the need for software documentation started to mushroom. In fact, the profession was alive and well in Australia 40 years earlier, creating aircraft manuals, engineering equipment manuals, and other instructions, books, lists and guides. In the UK, the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC) was founded in the early 1950s. Shortly after that, the forerunners of the American Society for Technical Communication (STC) were founded. Although the majority of technical writers are now employed within the broader information technology industry, there are still plenty of engineering technical writers and technical illustrators producing manuals for planes, trains, trams, ships and automobiles. 

A Californian Government occupation guide helps define the role of the technical writer further.

"Technical Writers create communication from product developers to users of the products. Users include consumers as well as scientists, engineers, plant executives, line workers, and production managers. Writers must write in a concise and easy-to-read manner for consumer publications or in highly specialized language for experts. With the increased use of desktop publishing, Technical Writers increasingly are responsible for the publication process including graphics, layout, and document design.
" Technical Writers produce product instructions, reference and maintenance manuals, articles, project proposals, training materials, technical reports, catalogs, brochures, on-line documentation and help systems, Web pages, multimedia presentations, parts lists, assembly instructions, and sales promotion materials. "

Perhaps the following explanation sums it all up. It is grand in its simplicity.

" A technical writer is a person whose job it is to get the right information to the right reader at the right time at the right cost. "

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