It is needless to say that like any profession, becoming a technical writer requires a mastery of a certain set of skills, isn’t it? There is a difference between a great technical writer and just a great writer. Of course, both of them are great writers. The difference is that the technical writer has mastered the key skills required to make almost anyone understand and use almost any product that requires some technical knowledge. So if you are on your way to becoming a great technical writer the skills mentioned in this article are the most important ones for all technical writers regardless of their fields.
The art of usability and testing
The first and most important skill in this sphere is to be able to expose tacit knowledge about a product design or features. If you are looking for the easiest method to do this then just create easy to understand scenarios that the product users may encounter while using the product. This is the main reason why many manufacturers and software developers ask their technical writers to test and use their products in advance. Only after they write the help manuals and other documentations.
It is very important to test if the product actually works the way it was designed to work. In order to master this skill, you will have to try each of the product features and sub-features one after the other. A great way is to make 2 lists. One for the features that have worked appropriately and the other for those that performed poorly. There are such cases when the user interface or design is poor even if all other features work appropriately. It is better to list that as a key issue.
The art of using help authoring tools
Help authoring tools are designed to simplify technical writing process. Every technical writer should know how to use at least one help authoring tool proficiently. These tools make it easier to publish documentations in several different formats. Some of the mentioned tools are free for personal use.
There are many options for publishing documentations and when choosing the correct format, one must pay attention to the readers targeted, in particular choosing a printed or screen user manual.
The art of interviewing subject matter experts
The manufacturers are always eager to give you all the needed information. The problem is that they may not always communicate it successfully. So when you have a new technical writing project and you want all the information available this is when you will have to ask questions to elicit the relevant information you need from subject matter experts (SMEs). The best method of doing this is to conduct an interview. This can seem challenging in case you are yet to master the art of interviewing SMEs. So there are 3 key phases of interviewing SMEs:
- prepare for the interview
- conduct the interview
- extract the significant points relevant to your documentations
The art of conducting research
It is not a secret that research is the foundation of good technical documentation. And if the foundation is weak, it is a problem. In such cases, the documentation mostly ends up in a waste basket and the product manufacturer will pay an extra cost for that through customer support. So keep in mind that producing a quality help manual may be the best investment a manufacturer or a developer makes.
There are so many cases when the quality of the documentation is never better than the quality of the research. The key to writing a great documentation is researching every facet of your topic appropriately. It is easy for many readers and product users to identify vague and irrelevant content. You will likely make biggest mistakes if you write without proper research. So take the time to do it the best way you can.
The art of writing in a clear and concise manner
A great technical writer must master the art of communicating complex ideas, situations and scenarios in a simple, precise, clear and concise manner. Complex sentences will not make your documentation friendly for the audience. If you use too many tech terms and jargons, the chances of going to the basket are very high. Also if the quality of your content is poor, believe me, your target audience will realize that easily. Always try your best to match your content to the level of expectation and average knowledge of your readers.
When trying to become a great technical writer do not ever ignore the ability of good understanding of English. This is one of the most important things that make the reader trust the content they read. Reading content with errors is not only irritating, it can change the meaning of the writing and damage your credibility. So you need to have good grammar, spelling, punctuation, and syntax.
Technical writers create procedural or how to documents most often for a user who will access documents either in a manual or in an online database. This means that technical writers are constantly required to update their knowledge and skills about new software, designs, tools, platforms etc. More than ever, technical writers are now required to master new skills to stay ahead of the packs.
There is good news for you. The demand for technical writers is on the rise. Normally whenever a software application or a product is developed, supplementary documentation is instantly needed. So there is a tremendous demand for technical writers to create documents that show users how to utilize software programs. Industries include high-tech companies, banking and financial services, medical and pharmaceutical businesses, call-centers, and many others.
It is needless to mention that a well-trained technical writer will not run out of job opportunities. So make sure to follow the above-mentioned tips to become a great technical writer. We wish you good luck.