What Is Freelance Technical Writing: Tips To Keep In Mind


Technical writers simplify the complex. Be that a concept, a process or a procedure. But this deceptively simple definition hides a complex job that encompasses working with everyone including sales, engineers, physicians, and programmers. Unlike writing for a magazine or newspaper, a technical writer’s job is not to entertain, but to create clear and organized documentation for the reader.

In this field, you will need the ability to:

  • Know and relate to the target audience
  • Organize the structure of the document
  • Write so that non-technical readers understanding
  • Understand the benefit of the use of document formatting, e.g., the use of tables and graphic element placement
  • Edit and proofread
  • Research

While your job will be to understand the thoughts and ideas of others and translate these complex thoughts and ideas into plain English, they must also be prepared to have thought and ideas on the subject matter as well. You don’t need to be a subject matter expert, but be prepared to be a subject matter proficient. As a technical writer, you are a technical “interpreter” and you must:

  • Understand the audience. If you can’t understand the audience and interpret their needs, you will never produce the document they need or want.
  • Have interviewing and listening skills. You will need to know how to ask questions, what questions to ask, and the best person to ask. You will need to be able to work with many different people with many different personalities in a professional manner. You will need solid listening skills in order to capture the right information from the right people.
  • Know multiple “languages” intimately and understand the cultures of those that speak these languages. If you do not understand medical procedures, medical jargon, or the culture of a physician, it will be extremely difficult to understand the technicality of a surgical procedure or medical equipment well enough to explain it to a lay person effectively.
  • Be accurate – mistakes can be costly or dangerous. A missing step in a manual for spinal surgery could leave a patient paralyzed or worse.
  • Hone your computer skills. In addition to writing, you will need software skills, such as word processing and graphic applications. You don’t need to be an expert – but you should be proficient with the tools that you will use to write technical content.

But know that technical writers don’t only write manuals. They also work on:

  • Proposals
  • Reports
  • Newsletters
  • Studies
  • White papers
  • Marketing Documentation
  • Journal or research articles
  • Books

While the skills will vary, these are just a few that are needed and the benefit that a technical writer brings to any project.