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What is technical writing?

Technical writing helps us understand new technology, ranging from industrial equipment, through software, all the way to consumer products.

We take a ton of complex technology for granted. Without these approachable explanations, people would have a harder time trusting new technology. This applies to both B2C and B2B products, and especially those that only solve small problems.

Why is technical writing important for your business?

We’ve already mentioned that people won’t blindly buy into new tech, regardless if it’s just one decision maker or a mass audience.

The benefits of technical writing include:

  • better understanding of technology and earlier adoption
  • enabling self-serve for onboarding, training and education
  • ease of use thanks to manuals and documentation
  • creating unified processes that improve safety
  • reduced customer support overhead with technical guides and FAQs
  • technical content can extend beyond your product and service, helping people get more value from your offering
  • for agencies and service businesses, processes make up the value of your company – without technical writing and people, there is nothing left

The last benefit hits close to home for us, so we’ll explain it more at the end of the article. First, let’s look at a few examples of technical writing.

Examples of technical writing

Technical writing is much more than documentation and API guides for developers.

Even our case studies qualify as technical writing! Explaining complex solutions to common problems is not all about marketing and sales. This might be even harder to do if you’re selling specialist hardware.

Customer support and help systems are other examples of technical writing. These services and platforms are designed to explain your product in simple terms. They tie directly into the self-serve benefit mentioned before.

To throw in another NerdCow example, we create easy to follow guidance on how to use our bespoke website components. These need to be precise enough to leave nothing to interpretation, but also extremely easy to follow – a tough balancing act.

And with that said, user interfaces include a fair bit of technical writing, too. You probably recall tooltips in software. When used right, these are the perfect definition of technical content. The little helpers communicate a more complex concept, and they have to do it fast. Nobody reads a massive tooltip.

What about press releases? Do you publish a mouthful of jargon as a press release to your audience? This happens often, and CEOs of large companies are to blame – or rather their ghostwriters. Too often public announcements like that are a bunch of fancy words, some marketing jargon, and absolutely nothing of value to the customer.

Proposals are probably our favourite, for both good and bad reasons. Proposals usually require a bit of technical writing, but quite often it’s just too much, not executed properly, or both.

Other than that, it’s anything that aims to explain complex processes and technology: datasheets, internal documents (e.g. onboarding docs), white papers, and even business plans.

The role of technical writing in your content strategy

Technical writing is very different from marketing content. It certainly helps with sales and marketing, but there are a few differences.

Technical writing is all about precision and consistency.

This heavily limits the vocabulary you can use – something marketers would generally frown upon. You can’t get too fancy. A spade is a spade, even if you have to mention it eight times in three sentences. The terminology needs to be accurate and consistent.

Conversely, in marketing there’s a lot of storytelling, comparisons, metaphors, psychology, simplifications. Mixing these aspects with technical writing can be dangerous.

Because of this, don’t overestimate the value of technical writing in content marketing. It’s a useful tool to improve internal workflows and efficiencies. Comprehensive help centres reduce the volume of customer support tickets, but proper technical writing doesn’t just “sell” or “market”.

Instead, it works in tandem with sales and marketing. Technical writing gives your prospects comprehensive answers where your other content can’t. It’s an important part of the process, but only at very specific stages of the journey.

Experts don’t have the time (and skills) to write – technical writers do

One last thing – not everyone should write technical content.

It requires a good understanding of the subject and the nature of technical writing.

You might be tempted to ask technical experts to write it for you, but it’s a terrible trap. Most of the time, they’re great at writing it for their peers – but not for the average person. It’s simply not part of their skillset and the content they’ll write won’t be helpful.

And secondly, experts are expensive! They have higher priority tasks than writing for your help centre or a user manual.

The next “logical” step is asking marketers or copywriters. They lack in both of the aspects described above but in different ways. The more obvious issue is that they likely don’t have the technical knowledge to begin with. Or at the very least, it’s not sufficient for technical writing. But even if they do, they’re used to writing copy, content, marketing materials… not technical documents. The language for these is very different, as we explained before. You won’t get far.

The answer is simple: get a technical writer.

Here’s everything you need to start writing

“How To Write Your Website Content” is a 92-page ebook that aims to help you hit the ground running. We’ve compiled our 20+ years of content and copywriting experience and included our bespoke Website Messaging Workshop framework as a bonus.

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Originally published Sep 07, 2023 12:26:14 PM, updated May 8 2024.

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