Essential Skills Required of a Technical Writer

Posted In Tech Writing - By Sudipa Sarkar On Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 With 0 Comments

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Technical Writers obtain and present specialized information within strict accuracy and format requirements. Technical writing requires the ability to concentrate for long periods of time and strong organizational skills. There are five skills or characteristics which are “musts” for the technical writer:

Knowledge of Technology

Technical Writers does not necessarily have to be a Programmer, Electrical Engineer or other hardcore techie. However, they should be comfortable with and have the potential to grasp technology that they are documenting. For example, if you are a Software Technical Writer, you should be comfortable using various applications. This understanding brings a sense of achievement and knowledge that is rewarding at the end of the day.

Ignorance is Bliss – When Technical Writers approach a new piece of technology, it is their own lack of knowledge that they are inwardly observing. As they interact with and learn the software, they identify the information needs of the software users. They must be able to communicate well with programmers and customers, and extract information from them in a professional and personable manner. As you learn how to use the new product or application, you come across many of the issues that the users will face as they get started. So, initial ignorance is a valuable asset during documentation.

Ability to write clearly

The essential skill of any technical communicator is to study complicated things and explain them in easy-to-understand ways. You can’t just pass off an explanation that even you only half understand. Writing about something, as opposed to talking about it, requires that you understand it thoroughly. Avoid passive sentences and long constructions. Define acronyms and avoid assumptions about what the user knows.

Patience in problem-solving / troubleshooting

Any time you can show an idea graphically, you score a hundred points with the reader. People understand better when you can communicate your ideas visually. These images go a long way toward making your writing clear.

Patience in problem-solving / troubleshooting

Unless you have patience, you’ll never make it. Much of IT work consists of problem solving. It’s amazing how a seemingly impossible problem can be solved with a little patience and persistence.

Ability to interact with Cross-Functional Teams (CFTs)

Interacting with CFTs is one of the most overlooked skills in technical writing. You have to be part investigative reporter, part journalist. You can’t be shy about going after certain people to extract information. And you can’t be too proud to ask the “dumb technical questions” that make engineers do double-takes. A lot of this interaction can come about if you’re lucky enough to simply sit near the CFT members.

Organizational Skills

Almost every job requires some basis organizational skills, but technical writing demands quite a bit. Planning a schedule for your technical document means scheduling writing time along with various other activities like getting draft reviewed, editing, indexing, and preparing the final output. Also, to ensure that the project deadlines are met its critical that the time and resources required for each activity are clearly defined at the project start.

Strong Detective and People Skills

To create content, you need information. You can’t just make up the information although creative extrapolation is often required when information cannot be gathered. Often, the problem is not in getting information but in identifying             what is             relevant. You might have to search through piles of documents and technical specifications to find exact information.

Also, most of the times, technical writers require information from Product Developer or Subject Matter Expert (SME) who is extremely busy. Learning how to communicate to get the desired information is a skill that technical writers cultivate over time.

-Sudipa Sarkar