Day in the life of
Technical Writer – Marie Gettel-Gilmartin
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
write technical materials, such as equipment manuals, appendices, or operating and maintenance instructions. May assist in layout work.