Technical writers are sought after for their ability to take complex ideas and transform them into simple language that anyone can easily understand. While known for their creativity and technical prowess, the key trait that all technical writers possess is the ability to break down complex processes into a simplified format. Their communication skills and understanding of business practices are also tools of the trade.
How Technical Writers Work
Technical writers often handle a wide variety of clients ranging from information technology companies to manufacturers and service-oriented businesses. Their goal for each project is to provide end users with information that is easy to understand and follow, without sacrificing overall quality or accuracy.
Some of the projects that technical writers handle are:
- Whitepapers and reference guides
- User manuals and training materials
- Product packaging, catalogs, and warning labels
- Websites and online training modules
- FAQ pages, release notes, and demonstrations
- How-to videos and customer service scripts
- Other content types that are technical in nature
Additionally, technical writers prepare both customer-facing copy and internal documentation for their clients. Their process for delivering great writing is very similar to a copywriter; they identify the needs of the target audience, research what material will fit that need, and then write the copy accordingly.
Questions to Ask
A great technical writer will have the ability to make highly technical content easy to follow and understand. Their portfolio should show numerous examples of this process, ideally across many different industries and subject matters.
- Does the writer grasp the overall concept of your industry? While industry experience is not strictly necessary, it’s essential that the writer is comfortable with the concepts behind the project so they can explain it accurately.
- Has the candidate written for your target audience? There’s a big difference between writing for the general public and for professionals such as insurance agents or computer programmers, and the end user will influence the type of language used.
- How does the writer gather information throughout the project? Understanding what each professional will need from you to get started and throughout the writing process is a big help in understanding what they will be like to work with. Experienced writers will often have better organizational skills to make the process smoother.
- How does the writer handle problems when they arise? Despite each professional’s qualifications, they will likely all reach a point where they need further clarification in order to proceed. Knowing how they’ll handle those situations can offer insight into their professionalism.
Sample Project Description
Now let’s look at an example of a technical writing project description. Keep in mind that many people use the term “job description,” but a full job description is only needed for employees. When engaging a freelancer as an independent contractor, you typically just need a statement of work, job post, or any other document that describes the work to be done.
Seeking Experienced Technical Writer to Create Manual
XYZ Company is looking for a rockstar technical writer to write a manual that will instruct our customers and affiliates about our products and services. We anticipate that this document will be around 70 total pages or 35,000 words, and it will highlight approximately 50 of our top-selling products. Additionally, we would like to publish the material within the next 90 days. That gives us a timeline of about 8 weeks from start to finish on the writing aspect.
We’re a U.S.-based manufacturer of medical devices and equipment, so it would be helpful if you are familiar with this industry. We are estimating a budget of $3,500 for this project, which can be broken down across numerous milestones.
Other skills we think the project requires:
- Expertise in technical writing
- Fantastic oral and written communication skills
- Background in the medical field is a big plus
In your proposal, please tell us about a similar technical project you’ve completed recently and the biggest obstacles you faced during that project. We also want to get to know you as a person, so please provide 1-2 paragraphs about yourself and your experience as a technical writer.
Selecting the Best Technical Writer
Since you’ll likely receive proposals from several writers with great samples and all the right answers to your interview questions, choosing the best person for the project often comes down to personal taste in writing. Do not be afraid to ask to see additional samples during the interview process. It’s also a good idea to pay close attention to how quickly each professional replies and how thoroughly they answer your questions. It’ll be a good indication of their responsiveness and attention to detail.
Also, it’s a good idea to ask about the writer’s creative process, how they determine the right way to structure content, or a similar question that may put them outside their comfort zone. This will help you see how they perform under pressure. Individuals who handle the situation well are more likely to deliver a great final project.