I’ve been a technical writer/editor and marketing communicator for 30 years, having worked in the environmental consulting field for most of my career. I relish the opportunity to make the complex clear… to take a subject matter expert’s highly technical language and make it accessible to the layperson.
Work as a technical writer involves a lot of concentration and discipline, to make sure you make a document consistent and grammatically correct without changing the subject matter expert’s meaning. If you’re working more as an editor than a writer, it also tends to involve a lot of nagging the subject matter expert to write the first draft and review your edits.
As a technical writer, I interview the subject matter expert, write a draft of the document, and send it back to the subject matter expert for their review. I translate their technical language into clear terms and find ways to explain the jargon in the layperson’s language. I use headings, tables, bullet lists, photos, and graphics that break up the text and make it easier to read. Then I often have to remind them to review the document before I can proceed to the next step. After I receive their reviews, I compile their comments into the draft and read through the document again as a final QC. Sometimes it will involve consolidating multiple reviews from a variety of people.
As a technical editor, I receive the draft from the subject matter expert and do a thorough copyedit of the document. In addition to grammar, punctuation, and consistency, the copyedit includes creating a style sheet and noting particular technical terms, as well as making a list of abbreviations and noting the page where the abbreviation is first used. I review the text for a consistent tone of voice and clarity and suggest tables, graphics, bullet lists, and headings that would improve clarity. I send the document back to the author and consolidate their comments as well as other reviewers’ comments. I then send the document to the author for a final review, if needed.
- The thrill of being able to help another person clearly communicate a technical concept or project
- While I’m not a technical person myself, I love working with brilliant and talented engineers and scientists and helping the world discover their work
- Constantly learning new things and how things work—it’s never boring!
- Being the bridge between the technical world and the average person
- Being appreciated for what I do…writing is not always easy for technical experts, so my skills make their job easier
- Sometimes my brain hurts, trying to wrap my head around a particular document or concept
- It can be hard to get the technical person to communicate without using industry jargon, but I do my best to advocate for simplicity and clarity
- Can be stressful if working against tight deadlines
- When editing technical documents, can be difficult to get the author to let go of the text and let me improve it
Marie Gettel-Gilmartin is the founder and Principal at Fertile Ground Communications.
write technical materials, such as equipment manuals, appendices, or operating and maintenance instructions. May assist in layout work.