Technical Writing Packages

G'day all,

Does anyone have any advice on technical writing packages ?

I am about to finish a languages degree and want to combine it with my engineering background to develop into tehcnical writing. I am hoping for some recommendations on software I can look into. 



  • Hi Felicity,

    Here's one view, based my day job as an engineer (who likes writing so gets dragged into it), with a wife who is a scientific writer / editor and a sister who used to run a technical marketing agency:

    To be honest most technical writing I come across is just done in Word! The trick is in the writing style rather than the software.

    If you get into the design side of technical publications then it's a bit different, and you may then be using e.g. Quark or the Adobe suite, but often these days there will be a separate designer who will take your words and put them into the layout. That said, it probably is useful getting the hang of one of the basic publishing tools, e.g. MS Publisher, to see how this works and for working with smaller organisations. Don't spend a fortune (or preferably anything) on it though - you may never use it professionally. We haven't bothered updating my wife's business subscription to Adobe for years because it just never gets used now, she does everything in Word.

    You may find that academics recommend LaTeX. Personally I have never seen this used outside academia. It's useful if you want to write something with lots of mathematical formula in, otherwise it's (imo) pretty awful.

    Here's some other thoughts on entry to technical writing:

    Main thing is to build a portfolio, you may need to take on some very small jobs for local companies first (I hate to say it, but potentially at low / zero cost) to get some samples of work to be able to win bigger pieces of work (if you want to go freelance) or to get a position (if you want to go permanent).

    Show that you can listen, absorb information, and then turn it into something readable by the target readership - which may be engineers or the general public depending on the assignment. Sounds obvious, but there is plenty of technical writing that is pitched at the wrong level - too simple or too full of jargon. Having a portfolio of different types of writing is really useful. Just as examples: perhaps an installation manual aimed at engineers, a technical report aimed at the local council, a user guide aimed at the home user.

    Show that you will go back to whoever gave you the original information and work with them to correct any misunderstandings you may have made in the text. Again, should be obvious, but it is scary how often technical writers don't do it - and it can lead to real embarrassment for the organisation. Don't be tempted to say "just give it to me and I'll sort it out" - as engineers it's really scary when we hear that!

    Good luck! I can strongly recommend it as a career, it's a really valuable and satisfying role if you can find the right position.



  • G'day Andy,

    Thanks for taking the time to make such a helpful and common-sense reply. I have a couple of smaller jobs on at the moment and I will prioritise developing my portfolio over spending time learing a new software package.


  • that'd be learning not learing :) my spell check is currently set to french while I finish an assignment so doesn't flag basic errors in English.

  • And I had to edit after posting having realised I'd got some of my its and it's wrong Slight smile Thought I'd better get this one right...

    I never dare let my wife read anything I've written - I've seen her take out a pen and correct restaurant menus when we're out for a meal Smiley

  • I would agree with Andy.

    I have never seen LaTeX being used outside of academia.  Microsoft Word is very common,  It actually has a pretty sophisticated equation editor built in, if that's what you need.  For drawing pretty diagrams, Microsoft Visio is better - and the diagrams can be imported into Word.  But Visio is an add-on to Office, so it's an extra cost.

    For specialist things (e.g. UML diagrams), you're usually better off using the relevant tools, then exporting the diagrams as pictures, and importing them into your Word document.  Use lossless formats, such as PNG, not JPEG, if at all possible.

    LibreOffice is a free alternative to Microsoft Office.  It can handle Office file formats, but the formatting can sometimes suffer when converting back and forth between MS Office and LibreOffice.

    You'd also want to be familiar with Adobe Acrobat and MS PowerPoint.

    Where I work, we also use IBM DOORS for anything relating to requirements.  But that's pretty niche.

  • Cheers Mark,

    I'm pretty familiar with microsoft except not so much with Adobe Acrobat and Visio - I will have a look-see and get more familar with them.  

  • Hey Mark, 

    I've been told that the web based version of Microsoft 365 doesn't import existing templates. So if one is working on-site this is a problem becasue a new document needs to be formatted. Have you any experience with this ? Do you know of a way around it ? I ask because I want to work remotely and I am getting my head around any matters I may come across with regards to working on someones existing document. 

  • Visio is really just another vector graphics drawing package.  So if you're familiar with another one, then the principles will be the same.

  • I usually plug data into excel, but have been using google sheets lately which I also like - I find these useful for quick flow charts and circuit/systems sketches too. I will check out Visio for completeness. Ta