tech writing

3 Surprising skills you need as a tech writer

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The term “technical writing” kinda explains itself even though when you tell someone you’re a tech writer, they screw their face, tilt their head to the side, look up, and ask “What does that mean?” With deductive reasoning, you can assume you write about technical things or “techie” things. You also have to know how to write, right? Obviously.

However, outside of writing technical documentation, possessing the following skills will take you a very long way in your tech writing career:

Ask Questions

On job descriptions, you may see this skill listed as “requirements gathering” or “interviewing subject matter experts or stakeholders.” No, you don’t have to be the next Oprah, but you do have to be curious and ask a lot of questions. Barbara Walters has the ability to bring out the emotional side of people, Oprah has the ability to bring out the spiritual side, but you? You need to bring out the intellectual side. All the secret information locked away in someone’s tenure brain often requires strong interviewing skills. In many cases, you don’t get all the information you need in one sitting. Sometimes it takes re-phrasing the question in multiple ways, playing devil’s advocate, multiple brain dump sessions, and pulling teeth.

UX (user experience) Design

9 times out of 10, you’re writing a document that will be published on a website or mobile app. Rarely, you write materials that are solely used for print as a tech writer. With that being said, companies are becoming more and more aware of the user experience they create with their web design. Careful thought goes into not only the location of content or the colors used, but also the flow of information, and how to increase engagement or drive specific actions from users. UX designers get to play with fun things like buttons, toggles, radio buttons, navigation flows, dialogue boxes, tooltips, etc. 

Guess what? In most cases, those elements need text! This type of text is called user-interface (UI) or user experience (UX) text. And that’s where you come in. I kid you not, I’ve had meetings where our sole focus was on whether 2 buttons should say “Cancel” and “Continue” or not. Not too long ago, I had to decide whether to leave a field blank or provide a greyed out example, like “” so it's easier for users to complete. 

These are legit decisions you get to make as a writer in tech. It's fun work and in recent years, I’ve seen a rise in demand for skilled writers to do more UI work.

Cut to the chase

In marketing materials such as blog posts, white papers, or thought leadership pieces, you have the luxury of storytelling and elaborating. You can provide ample examples and almost never have a character limit. However, in many cases, as a tech writer, you need to get the point across in a clear and concise manner.

Think about it, do you enjoy reading long manuals or instructions? Most of us usually skim through a help center article or hope and pray for a quick instructional video. What that means for you, as a tech writer, is that you find yourself deleting and editing. A lot.

You don’t get to embellish or use vocabulary that maybe you as a wordsmith would love to. You’re gonna have to save that for your novellas and other types of documentation. Why? It’s about knowing who your audience is and what they need to accomplish. When it comes to web and mobile apps, there's not a lot of room for long-form reading and comprehension.

Think you have the chops to become a writer in Tech? Sign up for this free 5-Day course to learn more what it takes to break into the industry.

What to do BEFORE you apply for writing jobs in tech


Forget about freelance writing boards

So you've probably seen a bunch of expensive freelance courses or read a ton of stories about some freelance writer who is working on the beach with a cocktail and a laptop about how successful they are. Maybe you got inspired by that course or article you read and decided to try freelancing for yourself. How did it go? Did you find it stressful? Was it sustainable? If it works for you, great. However, if you realize that those stories are not the norm then what you need is a more effective job search strategy to landing a job in Tech. If you're looking for a more lucrative and sustainable way of making a living using your writing skills then I want you to consider the tech industry. There is a better way:

  • No need to scroll through pages and pages of gigs trying to find the right one to apply to
  • No need to compete with other writers from around the world
  • No need to bid for pennies on the dollar for the occasional gig
  • No need to spend hours putting together a pitch

In my free mini-course, I share with you tips and strategies to help you land a writing job in Tech in a streamlined and more efficient way. There's also a handy worksheet that will make it even easier and less stressful so make sure you check it out.

The next thing you need to do before applying for a writing job in Tech is pretty obvious, but you must write. And publish what you write.

Create your portfolio

Not too long ago, a friend of mine who is working on her masters in History & Ethnic studies told me she has been feeling defeated like she wasted all this time and money in a field that doesn’t necessarily have the job opportunities she’s looking for. So I asked what kind of job she was looking for. She told me she was actually thinking of going to Business School instead so she can get a job in Marketing. I told her “If you want to get into marketing you need to start doing some marketing projects and SHOW that you have the skills.” Yes, it’s safe and comfortable and quite common to go back to school to study something we think we want to do for a living.

My advice is to actually try to get some side hustle experience and build a portfolio for yourself first. There are plenty of opportunities for you to volunteer your time for 1 small project with a startup company for example. Heck, when I wanted to showcase my WordPress skills, I built my own portfolio using WordPress; I didn’t go back to school to learn CSS or HTML.  

So, if you think you want to get into writing in the Tech industry then I encourage you to write 1 or 2 technical documents for something you’re interested in. For example, if you're a fan of an app like Trello, you can write a how-to article on how to do some kind of hack that many people would find valuable, but aren't aware of. 

Put your expertise out there

In tandem with showcasing your skills with a portfolio, don't be afraid to share your thoughts on a particular methodology, strategy, product, or tool relevant to the industry. For example, you can write a blog post on LinkedIn about how to using the Pomodoro technique helped improve your productivity while editing a technical manual. #nerdalert It doesn't have to be perfect, the point is to be a contributor and again, SHOW that you are passionate or at least interested in the field that you desire to work in.

Platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn makes it easy for you to demonstrate what you can bring to the table.

You can also share content created by others and share your opinion about it. Join conversations related to the portfolio piece you created. For example, if you're a fan of Evernote and they published an article that you like, why not spark conversations and leverage it to showcase your professional opinion? 

These tips may seem a little unconventional, but at the end of the day, I want you to be strategic with your time when it comes to finding the right writing position. Most jobs in Tech do not rely solely on a resume anymore, you also have to prove what you can bring to the table and I believe that showcasing your skills and interest before you even think about applying is a great way to start.