These are a few common questions I've gotten from clients and potential clients, so take a look. If you want more information, feel free to email me. For general information about technical writing, see the Society for Technical Communication website, http://www.stc.org.
What does a technical writer do?
Technical writers create and edit technical documents like online help, manuals and guides, white papers, and web content. Technical writers can also do support documents like QA testplans, marketing materials, and editing and services like web design and logo and graphic design.
Why is using a technical writer better than having my engineers, marketing department, or webmaster write what we need?
There are benefits either way. Engineers already know the project and the details, but this familiarity can make it difficult to simplify it for end users who aren't familiar with it at all. Technical writers learn this quickly, so they can recognize the points that need extra explanation or clarification. Also, the point of technical writers is to format and organize information so it is presented completely and clearly.
So, how does the whole process work, from nothing to a manual?
There are two main stages: planning the documentation and researching and drafting the docs. First off, identify the purpose and audience, the information you want included, and the way that you want that information provided to your customers or users. For a little more detail, see my (generic) the workflow image which shows the major points of the document development process.
After planning what documentation is required and what those docs are supposed to do, then begins the process of researching (through test plans, ad materials, engineering designs or drafts, and interviews), outline, drafting, and reviewing and revising the final docs.
Do you work on a 1099 or W-2?
Both; it's up to you and the way you prefer to hire contractors. Generally, I work on a 1099.
What kind of work do you do?
My primary emphasis is on writing: user manuals and guides, installation manuals, help files, white papers, booklets, and web content, along with QA testplans and testing. I usually work with software and related technologies, but I love doing different things, and I have done projects with hardware and equipment installation, science reports, business processes, and marketing content. I also do page layout and design, catalog design, graphic and logo design, and website design in HTML, CSS, and ASP.NET. The only thing I don't do is Flash animation.
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