Being a technical writer requires a variety of skills, including great writing skills, strong technical skills in other areas, good interviewing and listening skills, and good people, time management, and project management skills. But some great tech writers lack experience with specific software that hiring companies may use in every day production. When adding a technical writer to your team, how strongly should you insist that a candidate have experience with specific software?
The article How Important are Specific Software Skills for a Technical Writer gives some insight on how important it is for a technical writer to learn a specific software tool and also discusses the dilemma hiring managers may face when choosing between a technical writer who has experience with specific software but hasn’t quite mastered it, or someone who lacks the experience but is eager to learn.
Read How Important are Specific Software Skills for a Technical Writer? and then leave a comment here with your thoughts. If you were faced with the choice, would you rather hire the writer who has specific software experience or a different candidate with perhaps better writing and people skills who is willing to learn the software?
A few years back, when the original source article was written, Wikipedia defined technical writers as “Professional writers who design, create, maintain and update many types of technical documentation, online help, user guides, white papers, design specifications, and other documents.” Since then, the information on the technical writing profession provided through Wikipedia has evolved, much like the profession itself has evolved. We especially enjoy the quote from Kurt Vonnegut, which describes technical writers as:
“..trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writing. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to the reader.”
As the task list for which technical writers assume responsibility grows, so does their value to the team. Our previously published article, “How Technical Writers Add Value to Your Team” provided some insight on how technical writers are trained and how they can enhance the usability and value of your products or services. But much has changed since then.
Read How Technical Writers Add Value to your Team and then leave a comment here with your thoughts. As the technical writing profession has evolved, how has the value to the team that tech writers bring to the table increased in your experience?
Technical writing groups are often faced with problems in trying to achieve efficient management of content quality.
In this interview with Diane Wieland, Scott Abel, publisher of The Content Wrangler, discusses how content quality management systems are used to increase the efficiency of tech pubs groups and gives specific examples of tools used for managing content quality. He also recommends several other sources that will give managers better insight into content quality management and its importance.
Read Understanding the Need for Content Quality Management and then leave a comment here with your thoughts. Have you tried any of these tools? How does your group manage content quality? We’d love to hear from you.
Over the years, technical writers have found that their job duties, responsibilities, and their employers’ expectations have expanded greatly beyond the writing process. That is a big part of the reason why the Society for Technical Communication (STC), historically the professional organization for technical writers, sought to re-classify technical writers as technical communicators a few years ago.
The article Technical Writers are Communicators provides a look at how technical writers have evolved since the emergence of the PC and will continue to evolve as technologies and needs change. Not only has technology changed, but work processes have changed along with it.
Evolution for technical writers continues in the professional workplace, even since this article was originally published. Change seems to continue to occur at near the speed of light.
Read Technical Writers are Communicators and then leave a comment here with your thoughts. As a technical writer/technical communicator/information design professional, how have you had to adapt over the years? What further changes have you seen since the article was published?
When hiring a contract technical writer, there are many factors to consider. First, you need to be sure that you’re getting the right one to avoid problems and ensure success.
In his article “Hiring Contract Technical Writers”, Writing Assistance, Inc.’s President, Scott Hartmann, provides insight on what you need to do before you start looking for a contract technical writing professional and how to go about finding one suitable for your project. He provides a list of steps that will help guide you through the process, including preparing a job description, the avenues and resources available to help you find contract writers in lieu of full-time employees, and what to look for in a contract technical writer. He includes a discussion of the contracts and agreements you need once you select a writer and explains other factors to be considered.
Read Hiring Contract Technical Writers and then leave a comment here with your thoughts. Do you have any additional thoughts to share on the steps involved in hiring a contract technical writer?
As Tech Writers advance through their career, they are not prepared to market their documentation department, but as their roles grow in the company, they often need to be Tech Comm Marketers to ensure their department survives.
In his article, How to Market a Documentation Department, Robert King discusses how to market a documentation department, providing how-to information that could be helpful to those who find themselves in this position. He provides seven ways to market documentation team services to internal and external customers:
- Quality of your goods and services
- Stepping out of the box for your customers
- Saying yes to your customers
- Connecting with your customers
- Telling about yourself
- Showing Value Added
- Your full documentation team
As he adeptly points out, being a Tech Comm Marketer can be very exciting or frustrating, successful or disastrous, but it’s about effort and persistence that will pay off with new opportunities, not only for the Tech Writer, but the entire documentation department.
Read How to Market a Documentation Department and then leave a comment here with your thoughts. Are you doing the same marketing services to your customer?
Technical Writer Tom Johnson over on I’d Rather Be Writing provides a nice, 10-item list of technical writing principles he considers most important to him in his day-to-day work. Probably most of us have never really taken the time to think much about what guides us, let alone put it in writing. But having an orderly process that’s proven to work for you is always a good thing, especially helpful in preventing getting side tracked and for maintaining a consistently high-quality level of deliverables.
Johnson’s list includes what seem to be some fairly common observations, like “Developers almost always overestimate the technical abilities of their audience” to common sense, “Balance text with visuals,” to things we might know, but often forget, like “Examples clarify complicated concepts more than almost anything else.”
In any event, 10 technical writing principles to live by is a pretty good read, in our opinion, and a good starting point for any technical writer wanting to give some serious thought to developing his or her own personal list of guiding principles. Some great comments have been added to the piece, too.
What are your thoughts on the principles Johnson identifies as most important? What would you add or remove from his list, and why? We’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment.
It’s no secret to any technical communications professional that job descriptions and duties have expanded over the years. The old style “Technical Writer” has evolved into an assortment of job duties in today’s lean employment environment.
In some cases, Technical Writers have morphed into becoming referred to as Information Engineers. After all, isn’t technical communications all about the engineering of information?
Whether your current title is Technical Writer, Documentation Specialist or some other older-style position reference, it may be time for you, your HR Department and senior management to better describe what it is that you do – in a way that conveys your value to the organization and your responsibilities today. Any time you change a position title is a good time to update the job description as well.
In his article, Potential Position Descriptions for Information Engineering Professionals, Steve Capri looks at a variety of position descriptions that just may be a more realistic depiction of what you are doing now.
Read: Potential Position Descriptions for Information Engineering Professionals and then leave a comment below with your thoughts. Has your title and/or job description been updated where you work? if you are an HR professional, are they any talks or initiatives in place to do that?
CNNMoney published this list it complied with PayScale of the top 100 best jobs in America.
Among the top 100 jobs were:
- Instructional Designer, at number 76 – With quality of life scores of A across the board for personal satisfaction, benefit to society, flexibility and low stress, it’s a bit of a surprise that this career wasn’t ranked higher.
- Technical Writer, at number 86 – For tech writers, personal satisfaction only scored a C grade, while benefit to society and flexibility both received Bs, and low stress received an A.
Seems like a big difference in ratings for just a 10-position difference in the list to us. It would also appear that the greatest weight was given to the potential for job growth over the next 10 years. We also note the position of Clinical Documentation Specialist ranked at number 52 in the list.
Do you agree? What are your thoughts on these professions and the value of the list? Please leave a comment.
Entry-level technical writers and those who are considering technical communications as a career often ask if it’s necessary to get a technical writing certification or if certain courses are best to improve their skill set and hireability.
Ask five people and you’ll likely get five different answers. Recently, I’d Rather Be Writing posed this question to Laura Palmer, an assistant professor at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia. Her response, although somewhat inconclusive, is a good examination of how to prepare academically for a career in technical communications, including not only a look at course work but at textbooks, too.
Read: “The Courses Conundrum: What Do You Need to Be a Technical Communicator?” for her detailed response. If you’re already a technical communications professional, we’d like to hear about your first-hand experiences, so please leave a comment below for discussion.
Related topic: Which Skill Sets are Important for a Technical Writer?