In Writing for developers

I’m sure you already know that I’m a technical content writer and thus succeeded in combining two of my passions: writing and technology.
If someone calls me a technical writer, I often have the urge to object, because this is not what I actually do.
Technical writing and technical content writing—they differ in only one word, that is ‘content.’ And this word makes all the difference.

In this article, I want to shed some light on these two professions, why they’re different but also what they have in common.

What is technical writing

Technical writers are, in my opinion, the unsung heroes of the tech world. They transport complex ideas, principles, and functionalities understandably to different audiences.
Most of the bigger companies have their own writing teams, where specialists follow their passion for explaining and documenting.

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
  • and much more

All these texts have one goal: deliver information, enabling the reader to perform specific tasks. Their aim is not to be entertaining or especially fun to read and have their own tone and style—which is mostly objective. Of course, there are exceptions and some manuals are also fun to read. Often this is due to the image and brand a company wants to build or maintain.

What is technical content writing

The critical part here is ‘content writing,’ so let’s look at this first.

A content writer produces relevant content to reach a specific goal. In the last couple of years, companies increasingly began to publish high-quality pieces to get more traffic on their website, build trust, position themselves as experts, and drive sales.

So, a content writer must write in a tone and style that reaches the target audience best—that can be anything from business-like to cordial to screaming-enthusiastically. Working on the internet requires to know a thing or two about SEO and how to place relevant keywords throughout the content too.

Now, it’s straightforward to understand what a technical content writer’s doing: writing engaging and relevant content for the tech-industry to help achieve marketing and sales goals.

Group of people standing in front of a wall. They may be technical writers or content writers –  who knows!
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

If you want to learn more about this topic go ahead and read my prediction for technical content writers in 2019.

Both specialize in a niche

Like technical writers specialize in writing for specific industries technical content writers mostly do the same. You may find writers who offer their services only for Java-related Software companies, crypto and blockchain, web development, biotech, and so on.

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

Technology is complicated. It’s complex and branches out in various directions. To be able to compose quality content a writer must know what he or she is writing about.

Imagine you had to produce 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’d be able to write about it on a deeper level without having worked with the technology? Sure you can do some research and write grandiose articles about the basics or what other authors already published. There are tons of such articles out there, and it would be hard for a company to stand out with only such content. Companies need to provide information for their readers they’ll get nowhere else.

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

Bringing the two together

Let’s set up a scene: A software company needs to publish some engaging blog posts and tutorials about how their programmers work with the PHP Framework Laravel. The company wants to attract new talents for hire—that’s the goal (this is often done in the course of an employer branding strategy).

It’s the content writer’s job to write those articles, but she/he isn’t profoundly involved at how the programmers in this company work with Laravel.
Now, the two professions come together: The technical writer knows what the company’s developers are doing because he/she’s responsible for the documentation. This writer then provides his/her knowledge to the content writer. By working together they create content that is instructive, informative, accurate, engaging, search engine optimized, valuable, etc.

Conclusion

Technical writers and content writers are both important for the tech world and the companies who fare within it.

Both need to transport complex information to an audience, but their goals are different. A technical writer wants to enable readers to do something (like getting data from an API). However, 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’re always exceptions to generalities. Though, I think you now get the rough idea about who’s doing what and why!

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Showing 2 comments
  • Anchal
    Reply

    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?

    • Sarah Mischinger
      Reply

      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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