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Technical Writing vs Technical Content Writing

As you may know, I’m a freelance technical (content) writer and thus am fortunate to be able to combine two of my passions: writing and technology. And although I started out as a technical content writer, I now focus more on technical writing – this is where it can get confusing. You may wonder, “What’s the difference anyway?”

At first glance, technical writing and technical content writing differ in only one word: ‘content’ – and yes, this word makes all the difference.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the roles of technical writers and technical content writers and see what sets them apart and what they have in common.

I last updated this article on April 12, 2023.

What is technical writing?

In my opinion, technical writers are the unsung heroes of the tech world. We transport complex ideas, principles, and functionalities understandably to different audiences.
Many large companies have their own writing teams where specialists pursue their passion for explaining and documenting. Other companies are lucky enough to have developers who enjoy creating documentation, or they work with freelance technical writers like me.

Here are some documents a technical writer may produce:

  • user manuals
  • process manuals
  • technical reports
  • instructions (e.g., ‘How to assemble this 229-foot blast furnace’)
  • documentation
  • API references
  • and much more

All these texts have one goal: to provide information, enabling the reader to perform specific tasks. They aim not to entertain and are often written in a rather technical, objective tone and style.

Of course, there are exceptions, and some documentation is entertaining to read, usually reflecting the company’s image and brand. I love this laid-back technical writing style and have seen it become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in software development.

What is technical content writing?

The critical part here is ‘content writing,’ so let’s look at this phrase first.
A content writer produces relevant content to reach a specific goal. For example, in the last couple of years, companies increasingly began to publish high-quality articles to get more traffic on their website, build trust, position themselves as experts, and ultimately drive sales.

Any content writer must be able to write in a tone and style that best reaches the target audience – anything from business-like to cordial to screaming enthusiastically. Of course, creating content for the internet requires knowing a thing or two about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and how to place relevant keywords throughout the content too.

So what does a tech content writer do? We write engaging and relevant content for the tech industry to achieve (mostly) marketing and sales goals. After all, helping a tech company build a positive reputation with developers (who are not necessarily the primary audience when making purchasing decisions) ultimately contributes to marketing, sales, and talent acquisition goals.

Similar read: Want to learn more about the work of a technical content writer? Then check out my article, where I answer frequently asked questions about this profession that I receive from readers of my blog.

What do technical writers and technical content writers have in common?

Just as technical writers specialize in writing for specific industries or technologies, so do technical content writers. So, for example, you can find writers who offer their services only for Java-related software companies, crypto, blockchain, web development, biotech, etc.

But why? Why not write about all programming languages and systems?

Technology is complicated and complex and branches out in different directions. To create quality content, writers need to know their stuff, which is impossible if they don’t specialize in a subject.

Imagine you had to write an article about MySQL, and the first thing you have to do is look up what the heck MySQL even is. Do you think you could write about it on a deeper level without having worked with this technology? Sure, you can research and write about the basics and what others have published a hundred times before. But those often are not the articles that set a company apart. Instead, writers must provide the information their readers know they’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

And this, my friend, is also why technical (content) writers exist. You can’t ask a Lifestyle-writer to write about class inheritance in C++.

Similar read: Do you wonder what the differences between technical writers and developer experience writers are? Wonder no longer, and find the answer in my blog here.

How tech writers and tech content writers can collaborate

Let’s set up a scene: A software company wants to publish engaging blog posts and tutorials about its developers’ work with the Laravel PHP framework. The company wants to attract new talents for hire – that’s the goal as part of its employer branding strategy.

The content writer’s job is to write these articles, but they don’t have much to do with Laravel or how the programmers work with it.
The technical writer could assist with their knowledge of the developers’ work since they are responsible for the documentation. Also, technical editors are often more practiced and experienced in talking to developers about their job. Thus, they can greatly help gather all the code samples and explanations needed for the content. Finally, as a result, the writers can create content that is instructive, informative, accurate, engaging, search engine optimized, valuable, etc.


Technical writers and technical content writers are critical to the tech world and the companies that fare in it.

Both need to transport complex information to different audiences, but their goals differ.
A technical writer wants to enable users to do something (like getting data from an API). In contrast, a technical content writer wants to direct readers to do something (like trying out an API).

Sometimes it’s a bit tricky to distinguish between the two because their work may overlap, for example, when creating tutorials.
This article paints only a generic picture of what technical writers and technical content writers do, and you know that there are always exceptions to generalities. Though, I think you now get a rough idea about who’s doing what and why!

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Sarah. Your post is great. This is a big-time question for me on how a general content writer can write content on a programming language etc. You mentioned, that in order to write technical content, a website should need two people – a technical person and a general writer (who knows SEO friendly writing, am I write?).
    I have a question. There are so many big training websites who provide all types of courses under one roof (digital marketing, Oracle, SAP, Blockchain, DevOps, JAVA, etc. etc.). How they publish posts on all different niches? Do they hire technical people as content writers or what?

    • Hello Anchal,
      Good questions! I will try to answer them as best I can:

      1) “A website should need two people – a technical person and a general author.”
      Not necessarily. I think that depends on the type of content and the writing skills of the developer. Of course, a second person who gives feedback and enhances the content can significantly improve it (4 eyes are always better than two 😉 ). However, most blog posts — provided that they are understandably written and follow an SEO-friendly structure — do not necessarily require an SEO writer, since keywords + keyword density usually arise automatically. However, an SEO author can help you a lot if you want to improve your website’s SEO ranking. It always depends on the marketing and sales goals to what extent content has to be optimized for search engines.

      2) “How do you publish posts in all different niches? Hire professionals as content writers, or what?”
      Yes, at least as far as I have experienced it. There are not many technical content writers — it is even more difficult for these course providers to find writers who have sufficient knowledge and experience in specific subject areas. And naturally, to write a course, you need in-depth knowledge! That is why they hire specialists (e.g., developers) who have enough experience in the respective subject and can also explain things in writing. These course providers usually have many editors and course designers who then polish and improve what the engineer wrote.

      I hope this answers your questions!

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Hi there!

I’m Sarah, technical content writer and former web developer. On my blog, I share share my writing and marketing knowledge with developers like you and hopefully help. Want me to do the writing instead? Shoot me a note 🙂

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