How do I choose a technical writer?

Technical writers are a specialist group of copywriters who can write about subject matter that is complex or that is very specialised. How do you choose a technical writer? They need to be able to understand a particular subject and then be able to explain its difficult concepts in a simple, accessible way to a chosen audience.

Technical writing requires the writer to be able to understand the material well enough to be able to interpret it. Once understood be able to create clear communications from the complex material.

The writer does not have to be an expert (indeed too close familiarity with the material can make if difficult to identify ambiguity) but does need to have a few necessary skills. They have to be able to work with people who do know the material, the subject matter experts, to get the full meaning.

Strong communication and writing skills

Communication and writing skills are needed to be able to write clearly and concisely  for a variety of audiences. Clear writing requires  skill in using language and vocabulary succinctly to create unambiguous meanings even if the material is complex.

Don’t choose a technical writer on their technical knowledge

The level of a writer’s knowledge can vary depending on the subject matter. It is important to recognise that technical writing has the objective of making a subject accessible to its reader. To make material accessible the writer has to more fully understand the reader than the writer.

Interviewing and listening skills

Being able to ask the right questions is perhaps the most important skill of a technical writer. The skill is knowing what and who to ask along with having the temperament and personality that can easily talk to people. They need to be able to extract relevant information from subject matter experts.

Visual design understanding

Technical writing often relies on the relationship between text and images, in such things as assembly instructions, maps, screenshots, cutaways, plans, etc. It is very important for the writer to have skills in basic illustration, infographics and to understand the importance of different forms of graphing to display information and statisitics easily. Finding someone with a broad set of marketing and graphic design skills makes it easier to choose a technical writer.