With just one word separating the terms “technical writing” and “technical content writing”, you can be forgiven for believing they are the same. However, if we take a closer look, the aims and responsibilities of a technical writer are different to those of a technical content writer, as are the reader’s expectations of them.
The two disciplines require similar skill sets and can overlap, but they are ultimately crafted to serve different purposes. If you’re curious to discover more about these specialisms, read on to discover the differences between a technical writer and a technical content writer.
What technical writing means
Technical writing is any writing designed to simplify complex, specialised, and technical information into something palatable and readable for audiences who may or not be familiar with the topic.
It’s usually performed by a technical writer skilled at interpreting technical information and with greater knowledge about the subject matter.
This form of communication is commonplace in occupational and technical fields like consumer electronics, engineering, finance, robotics, and computer hardware and software companies.
What is the goal of technical writing?
All the documents produced in technical writing have the same goal — to provide technical information to enable the reader to accomplish a task or goal.
They are rarely written to be attention-grabbing or entertaining. Instead, they follow a strict format and carry a direct, professional, and technical tone. Of course, this rule has some exceptions, with B2B companies like Slack (check out their micro-copy) adopting a fun, laid-back technical writing style in recent years.
However, like all technical writing, it can only be deemed a success if the reader can understand and apply it in practice, even without prior knowledge of the subject.
What do technical writers do?
Technical writers are unsung heroes of the tech world, taking complex concepts and presenting them in a simplified way to their audiences. They create various technical documents that include the following:
- Application Programming Interface (API) documentation
- Descriptions of production systems
- Product specifications
- Technical reports
- User guides or manuals
What is technical content writing?
The key element to address first is the phrase ‘content writing’. A content writer’s job is to produce engaging, high-quality, informative, and relevant written pieces for the web and print media. This could be in the form of:
- case studies
- category pages
- press releases
- product descriptions
- social media posts
- thought leadership pieces
The work of a content writer aims to capture, educate, and entertain the reader (no matter the type of written work), positioning a company as knowledgeable to build trusted relationships with its audience.
A good content writer will also invest time in SEO before constructing the piece. This involves identifying keywords and phrases to target and analysing competitors to reach a specific audience and attract new readers to the site.
A competent technical content writer will do everything expected of a content writer, but their work is specifically for the tech industry or about technical subjects. They compete with other online technical content writers to rank high in search engines for common technical search terms related to their topic.
If there is high competition for the main keyword they want to rank for, pursuing long-tail keywords as part of their SEO content strategy can effectively drive more targeted traffic.
Technical content writing examples
Technical content writing topics can cover anything from Bitcoin and cryptocurrency to canonical issues in Google Search Console. These are technical subjects that the average user would need help understanding, so research carried out by the technical content writer must cover all potential questions that come to mind.
Technical writing vs. technical content writing
Now you know what a technical writer is and what to expect of a technical content writer, let’s look at some commonalities and differences.
Technical writers and technical content writers have plenty in common. For one, they must understand a topic to write quality content, and knowledge gaps will show when the writer isn’t a specialist in their niche.
Technology covers many facets and is complicated and complex, especially when branching out in different directions. This is why technical writers and technical content writers tend to write for specific industries or technologies (biotech, web development, etc.).
It goes without saying that both disciplines require strong grammar and writing skills, and the ability to plan and manage time effectively.
A technical content writer will usually work closely with the business to establish a consistent tone of voice to help build brand awareness. A technical writer won’t have as much interaction or leeway with the tone — a factual and serious one is almost always needed to deliver complex information more precisely.
Both types of writers need to sift through a vast amount of data. Technical writers need to analyse a vast amount of data about a product to understand it thoroughly and restructure it for their readers in the simplest terms.
While technical writing intends to present the information required for the reader to perform a task, it’s important to gauge the client’s end goals and audience, as this will influence the research process.
Most technical writing jobs are required to explain how products, programs, or software work to the general public. However, documents like legal case reviews, medical case studies, and scientific papers will be written chiefly for a knowledgeable audience (known as expert-to-expert technical writing).
A technical content writer’s research will revolve around nailing the style and tone of the business. They’ll also need to utilise SEO to help hit marketing and sales goals by bringing in new website visitors. Placing relevant keywords naturally throughout the content, incorporating a robust internal linking structure, and finding blog ideas to improve organic reach require thorough investigation.
How technical writers and technical content writers can collaborate
In certain situations, technical writers and technical content writers can complement one another. For example, imagine a software company that wants to publish engaging articles and tutorials about its developers’ work with the CodeIgniter PHP framework. However, the technical content writer is unlikely to comprehensively understand Codelgniter and how the programmers work with it.
They can lean on the technical writer to fill those knowledge gaps and communicate with the developers about their jobs. This could be a big help in gathering all the code samples and explanations needed for the content.
In return, a technical writer may need to utilise the technical content writer’s tone, depending on whether the company wants to communicate its personality through technical writing documents. Technical content writers can also pass on their SEO expertise, but this should never be at the expense of delivering complicated technical concepts that are easy to understand to a general audience.
The technological world and the companies operating in it rely heavily on technical writers and content writers. They both need to convey complex information to different audiences, but the subtle difference is how it’s presented.
To summarise, technical writing helps the reader perform a task (like setting up a printer). In contrast, technical content writing intends to direct readers to content that enables them to understand a technical subject better — for example, the benefits of driverless printing.
Remember to cut out the fluff in your technical writing — it can be heavy going and become boring if you don’t make every word in your technical document or content count.
The art of writing excellent technical copy is humanising it by keeping it simple — use rudimentary, understandable words and avoid complex terminology. If you are looking for technical content writing or technical writer services, contact us at SALT.agency today.