What makes good technical writing stand out? And what does one person need regarding education and professional skills to become a content writer for the tech industry? Despite sounding almost identical, technical writing and technical content writing aren’t synonymous.
As we’ve explained in a previous post, we partner and write content for tech start-ups. But we’re not experts in technical writing. Even more, we’ve noticed there’s a typical confusion between the two concepts among the general public and even marketers.
That’s why we’d like to shed some light and explain the differences, plus let some experts share their views on why this mixup occurs quite often.
What Does a Technical Writer Do? How Is It Different from A Technical Content Writer?
A Technical Writer’s Job
Right after you’ve downloaded an app you don’t know how to use or want to assemble a new tool, you’d have to first read that app’s or product’s technical documentation. That helpful information was made available thanks to a technical writer.
Technical writers have to transform complex ideas into simple and easy-to-understand concepts for various types of audiences.
A technical writer’s tasks include preparing texts like:
- user manuals
- process manuals
- technical reports
The essential element for all these texts is to deliver clear information and follow a logical flow so that readers can easily understand what they have to do.
Required skills: a degree in a technical field and experience with specific tools or technology, depending on the industry.
Here’s what a few technical writers say about their daily responsibilities compared to those of content writers:
While both technical writing and technical content writing have a rather similar process, the objectives are different. A technical writer is focused on interacting with the product, whereas the challenge of a technical content writer is to make sense of the elements of value that address the consumer needs or marketing the product.
Working closely with the development team, the technical writer partakes in the product release by translating dev speak to user speak. Technical writing is clear, concise and with the documentation narrowed around product functionality. In contrast, with technical content writing, there are the challenges of having to optimize words for search term results, or structuring the content to avoid an F-shaped reading pattern.
Several job roles use terms such as technical, content, or copywriting to describe activities involving words and writing. If a term is more common, an availability bias might be triggered to associate one role with another. Mixing up roles happens in other fields such as mental health, where a psychiatrist might be mistaken for a psychologist because the latter is a well-known profession.Andrei Onciu, Snr. Technical Writer at UiPath
“Technical writers have a single responsibility: what they write needs to be understood by any reader, regardless of their level of experience. Content writers usually tell a story and filter what message they believe it’s important to communicate.”Andreea Barbu, Technical Writer at FinTechOS
H3: A Tech Content Writer’s Job
Every time you read a tech company’s blog, an article from a tech magazine, or even an intriguing Twitter thread on any tech topic, there’s a tech content writer behind it.
A tech content writer crafts copy for:
- Blog articles
- Website pages
- White papers
- Press releases
- Social media texts
A technical content writer’s job is to promote a tech brand and write about a wide range of trending topics in the IT industry. This person has to adjust the tone of voice and writing style based on what he/she considers would suit the target audience best.
Required skills: a degree or work experience in marketing or communications, and at least some knowledge or work experience in an IT field.
Check out what copywriters and content managers say about content writing for tech:
I think that content writing for tech is less technical than technical writing itself (repetition intended!) I believe it’s because the audience is also different for these two – for the first one, it’s a lot broader, basically referring to the everyday tech user, while the second one addresses more advanced users, namely ‘techies’.Corina Dumitrescu, Senior Creative Copywriter at Oliver Agency
“Technical writing is about sharing the process of building the product or the content that helps the consumer use the product. Content writing is technical writing, but not all technical writing is for content marketing.I think this can be confusing for people hiring because they see both tasks as writers.
But the difference for the writer is huge. I believe most content writers could be technical writers if they’re given access to technical experts who can explain their product and process clearly. If the experts aren’t able to articulate their expertise, then an expert who can write will need to be hired for the job.
Finding someone who can think technically, write code, and build a product while also writing about the process in a clear way is very challenging.”Adrienne Barnes, Content Director, Principal Researcher & Founder of Bestbuyerpersona.com
The Ups and Downs of The Two Different Professions
Most people take a technical writer’s work and effort for granted, and there’s quite a logical explanation for it. You don’t get to see too much (if any) technical documentation, how-to guides, or product manuals with heavy marketing wrapped around them. That may seem unfair because sometimes the technical documentation is the core of a technical product.
If you have a successful app that’s not backed up with good, effective technical documentation, you’re not providing your users the optimal experience they expect.
Technical writers aren’t interested in making their copy sound clever, interesting, or grandiose! That’s quite the opposite of what technical content writers sometimes do.
They obviously have good or exceptional writing skills. They know how to either cover a boring topic with an intriguing story or drive readers’ attention to a product or service by focusing on the pain points. But most of them aren’t tech specialists.
As an experienced marketing consultant and journalist mentions:
A technical writer must write in a clear and concise manner with no emotion to cloud or confuse any issues. While it’s always tempting to assume knowledge and not explain complex technical issues to a technical audience, (and leave out parts that the author doesn’t consider important) any gaps in information will likely confound at least some readers. That’s why all instructions should be clear enough for a toddler to understand – regardless of what you think the audience knows; an expert will feel reassured that the author knows what they’re talking about while a novice will too. The common term for this is ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5 years old).
Content writing is a broad term which also includes technical writing. However, in general, it should always be grammatically correct, informative and entertaining. Nowadays, I strongly recommend it’s written by a native speaker too because foreign accents appear in the written word: if you wouldn’t use a foreign call center for your organization, don’t use foreign copywriters.
If marketing is involved, it must have a Call To Action. If you want to achieve the Holy Grail, add-in SEO too, but try to make it read naturally instead of ham-fistedly throwing in search terms (and unnecessary paragraphs) to meet density targets – readers don’t like that. Achieving all six criteria is very difficult as few people are skilled at writing, marketing and SEO all at once.Nick Ross, Digital Publishing & Content Marketing Consultant, SEO expert, Freelance Journalist and Editor of High Performance Laptops
What Tech Marketers and Consultants Say
Knowing the difference between technical writing and content writing for tech companies is what separates the good from the best. Technical writing is to make sure people understand concepts thoroughly, and understand how to troubleshoot themselves throughout the process.
Content writing for tech companies is important to help capture the target audience’s attention and for them to read the content you’re writing. That means making sure the tone, the interest, the overall information is matched to the audience. Content writing adds to a company’s brand image.
Technical writing makes sure the customer understands the product, but isn’t necessarily for their attention as much as it is for their knowledge and understanding.Sheeta Verma, Technical Marketer & Consultant, Senior Digital Marketing Specialist at Vyond
Writing is both an art and a science –but technical writing leans more to science and content more to art. Both are important and have their place and rooted in good grammar and structure, strong audience understanding and clear and concise writing. Where they differ is the goal and purpose: technical writing is clear, straightforward and with the goal of helping the audience understand a task.
Content is broader, it can entertain and should emotionally move the audience to a new point of view or educate them on something new. A technical writer needs to have a very deep understanding of the product and subject matter—while this is helpful for content writing, it need not be so precise since you are usually more focused on audience pain points rather than a specific product or service.Kelly Rusk, Marketing and Communications Consultant, KellyRusk.ca
In my experience, I differentiate the two types of content by looking at the writer’s experience: #TechnicalWriting is written by someone with hands-on technical expertise, a practitioner (for example, a programmer, a tester, a support person, an engineer, etc.).
In contrast, Technical Content Writing is written by someone with experience in the tech industry, who understands the concepts, and the jargon, who can put things into context, and who’s usually focusing on high-level topics or long-form content. The other aspect is the type of writing: while technical writing is very concise and specific, technical content writing is also about storytelling and focuses on different elements, such as business, product, marketing, etc.
To thrive in today’s content marketing landscape as a tech company, I firmly believe that you need both roles to collaborate and enhance each other’s pieces to ensure your content is relevant, authentic, and specific.Gabriela Amarie, Chief Marketing Officer at Softbinator Technologies
Hope you found this expert round-up insightful and it painted a clearer picture on what is technical writing compared to content writing for tech companies.