When you think of writing as a profession, you might envision a quirky professor holed up in a cabin somewhere penning the next great American novel. In reality, though, there’s a significant number of people who make a living writing that will never even work on a piece of fiction.
One form of nonfiction writing that can prove to be a lucrative, reliable source of income is technical writing. The majority of writing that’s used in business falls into this category. Here, we’ll share some of the most common examples of technical writing and show you what makes for strong technical writing samples for your portfolio.
What is Technical Writing?
As its name suggests, technical writing is writing that focuses on a technical topic. Unlike creative writing, which is centered around storytelling, technical writing is grounded in objective facts and serves to convey information within occupational fields like technology, engineering, finance, law, medicine, etc.
Technical writing typically displays one or more of the following characteristics. First, it focuses on a specialized topic, like instructions to perform a technical task or the specifications of a product. Second, technical writing is frequently conveyed via a digital medium, like a PDF file or a page of a website. Finally, technical writing often takes the form of a step-by-step guide showing the user how to do something.
Forms of Technical Writing
Here are a few of the most common forms of technical writing.
How-to guides and instruction manuals
This is perhaps the most frequently used form of technical writing, and one most of us access at least a few times a week when we look up how to do something on Google. It might include product instructions, troubleshooting guides for software, procedural guides for occupational roles, and more.
A press release is a formal document issued by a company to share a piece of news or make an announcement. The goal of the press release is to convey why the information is important to the general public. The press release is fact-based and usually includes quotes from one or more company stakeholders.
Proposals are used by companies and contractors to bid on jobs. This type of technical writing involves outlining the scope of work that will be done and the compensation associated with it. This is an important piece of writing because for many companies, it’s the primary channel for securing new business.
A technical writer who’s experienced with drafting legal documents will find himself with no shortage of work. Organizations use these often-complex documents to conduct business and navigate professional relationships. Some common legal documents include contracts, non-disclosure agreements, waivers and purchase agreements.
Case studies and white papers
Case studies and white papers are a type of technical writing meant to demonstrate the author’s expertise in a particular area. A white paper dives deep on addressing an industry-specific challenge, while a case study serves as an example of a successfully completed project. Both of these types of writing can be instrumental in helping a company land new business.
How to Write Strong Technical Writing Pieces
The best technical writers are analytical and detail-oriented. This is a type of writing where the facts matter greatly, so attention to detail is paramount.
Unlike creative writing, which aims to evoke an emotion in the reader, technical writing is typically meant to be emotionally neutral. This isn’t to say there’s no room for creativity; in fact, the opposite is true, as technical writing is often highly nuanced. A legal contract, for example, may need to convey a firm tone while maintaining an air of professionalism. A case study might call for adopting a conversational voice while discussing a highly technical line of work.
While the technical writer’s skills are different from those required of the creative writer, they’re no less important. To strengthen your technical writing, check out the examples below. Then, review and tweak your work using the pointers we’ve included with each one.
Technical Writing Examples
Janette Marie Novack – White Paper
For a great reference on what a strong white paper looks like, take a look at this technical writing sample from Clippings.me writer Janette Marie Novack. This is a strong white paper for a number of reasons.
First, it targets a clear and well-defined technical audience: managers who are having trouble developing their employees. Next, it concisely and objectively defines the problem using fact-based support from a number of reliable sources, like the Society For Human Resource Management. Finally, it outlines actionable steps to correct the problem, with a call-to-action to learn more (often a key component at the conclusion of a white paper).
Rolando Montecalvo – Instruction Manual
We take instruction manuals for granted; they’re one of the toughest written materials to get right. You can’t miss steps or the reader will be bewildered, and you can’t use language that’s the slightest bit ambiguous or you’ll invite uncertainty. Instruction manual writing is an art of its own, and one that Rolando Montecalvo masters in this sample.
In it, he takes a technical device–a wireless carpass–and ensures that even the most novice buyer can install and use it properly. Notice how he gives highly specific details (“wait up to 2 minutes,” “must be within 3 meters,” etc.) to eliminate any confusion about whether the customer is doing the step correctly. A graphic chart outlining common issues provides an at-a-glance resource for troubleshooting any problems.
Jessica Ranftl – Media Advisory
A media advisory is a unique piece of technical writing in that it’s meant to help another group of writers–journalists–do their job more easily. Jessica Ranftl has a thorough example of this in her media advisory for an energy company.
Within a few seconds of viewing the document, you’ll notice it’s formatted for quick skimming, perfect for the intended audience of busy reporters. It wastes no time getting to the facts of the event: who, what, where, when and why. Short bullet points sum up the must-know information about the event, while readily available contact info makes it easy to follow up for additional details.
Build a Technical Writing Portfolio with Clippings.me
Clippings.me is your one-stop shop for creating your technical writing portfolio online.
First, register for a free account and answer a few questions to complete your basic information. You can link your account with other platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to speed up the process.
Then, add a short bio that summarizes who you are and what you do. This is the place to detail what type of writing you specialize in and any specific types of assignments you’re looking for. If you have prior work experience with noteworthy clients, that’s also a good thing to include in your bio.
Finally, it’s time to add your technical writing samples. You can upload them from your computer or add them via URL. You can also add media like images and video, if you wish. If you’re uploading a number of samples, it’s a good idea to organize them into categories (press releases, proposals, and so on) to help the viewer navigate between them more easily.
Clippings.me is free and no coding is required. Get started building your technical writing portfolio in minutes by registering here.
Musings and updates from the content management team at Clippings.me.