What Resources Am I Expected To Use?

Since technical writing documents are factual rather than creative pieces of writing, you will be expected to use professional and trusted sources to develop your work. It's likely your client will give you some sources or point you in the right direction at the beginning of the project. Technical writers rely on a variety of sources, and some of the major ones include:

  • Materials developed by major competitors: This type of resource can be especially helpful if you are writing help files or user guides for software. Many types of software - word processors, presentation programs, and spreadsheet programs, for example - are quite similar, regardless of which company makes them. For this reason, text developed by competitors can be a good research tool. Remember, it's never okay to copy someone else's work. Instead, use it to get some ideas and see how certain tasks were explained.
  • Articles: If you're writing about a scientific topic, journal articles are a great source of current and relevant information. Since journal articles are written for professionals rather than a general audience, the information is also likely to be more specific and technical. University libraries often have a large selection of periodicals, so get a card if you don't already have one.
  • Interviews: Conversing with experts who know about the product or process you are writing about is a fantastic way to gather information. It's likely that you will be assigned a subject matter expert, or SME, to work with at the beginning of the project.
  • The product itself: If you're writing assembly instructions for an office desk or a user guide for a printer/scanner/fax machine, there is perhaps no better research tool than the product itself. By building the desk or using the computer equipment yourself, you'll be able to construct clear step-by-step instructions, identify problems individuals may encounter, and figure out what (if any) additional tools and equipment the reader will need to complete the process being explained.
  • Reference books: These can include encyclopedias, handbooks, and guides. Keep in mind that these sources will usually present broad overviews of a topic that are written for a general audience. As such, they should be used mainly to help you write background or introductory sections of the document.
  • Company literature: Ask your client whether they have technical documents written by the company that might help you out. Unless you're discussing an entirely new product or process, chances are the client has some information available. Use it to help you conduct background research and get an idea of how the company views the topic you have been asked to write about. Although you shouldn't try to reproduce the company's earlier work, you may want to model your style and tone after the company's existing technical literature.

Last Updated: 05/05/2014