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As a Technical Writer, Do You Need to be an Expert? 

16th January 2012 Posted in Blog, Medical Writers, Technical Writers 4 Comments

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Being an expert is a good thing.  Being a technical writer is a good thing.  But do the two have to go hand in hand?

While it’s certainly a good idea for medical writers to be experts in their field, especially when it comes to preparing documents for medical professional use, what about the everyday technical writer?  And if you’re trying to hire a technical writer, do you need someone who’s an expert or do you just need a high quality writer?

Technical Writing and Expertise

The technical writing document has one goal: to inform.  In order to create a document that’s informative, the document needs to be backed up by research.  Many technical writers are able to complete the research on their own, without having expertise in that area.  They might:

By going to sources that are reliable, the technical writer can have the information they need to write like an expert.

Do You Need an Expert?

When you’re highly concerned about a technical writing project, it’s best to seek out a technical writer who has training in that subject OR a technical writer who has written similar documents (or better still, both).  If they’ve been writing for a certain field for a while, they’re more likely to have the background to show expertise.

Not everyone’s an expert, but a technical writer needs at least some of the knowledge of one.

Related topic:
Technical Writers as Subject Matter Experts

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  1. By Will Kellyon 18th, January 2012 at 3:11 am

    I’ve long thought the medical writing profession had the right attitude about writers have expertise in their subject matter. Technical writers also need some expertise and grounding in the subject matter, they are writing about. “The idiot as a user advocate” is an excuse I’ve heard bandied about by some technical writers justifying their aversion to technology. I see their excuse as the biggest myth about the technical writing profession.

  2. By editoron 18th, January 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks for your great comment. I couldn’t agree more.

  3. By Clarkon 22nd, January 2012 at 1:33 am

    I agree that in an ideal world, technical writers would be exerts in their fields. One would have to be brain-dead to disagree; however, companies and businesses often employ full-time technical writers to handle everything from toilet-cleaning instructions to process descriptions for complex machinery. I have written policy manuals for businesses about which I know very little, and technical descriptions of internal mechanisms of larger mechanical devices, the full function of which is something of a mystery to me, and technical explanations of first-aid procedures I have neither seen nor performed.

    Is all of the above Good? Absolutely not! It is downright scary to think of a technical writer laying out step-by-step activities that could save (or not) a person’s life, when that writer is not an expert in life saving–but it CAN be done. And often MUST be done, because the agency charged to produce the first-aid manual does not have a staffer capable of formatting and writing that kind of text. Very close editing and consultation between writer and subject experts will bridge the gap.

  4. By editoron 23rd, January 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks for your comment. Your experiences show the reality of the situation…

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