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What Technical Writers Need to Know (?)

20th February 2012 Posted in Blog, Technical Writers, Technology & Tools 6 Comments

Image for Tools for Technical Writers Post

According to some blogs, technical writers need to know how to use certain tools in order to be effective in these modern times.  But is this the truth?  Let’s look at the current suggestions:

Social Media

Here’s something that seems to be the least important, yet most often used tool today for all writers.  With social media, you can reach out and learn more about certain documentation topics, and you can reach out to SMEs, on occasion.  But outside of these special cases, it’s not clear why social media is something that needs to be a ‘must know’ for technical writing.

Collaboration Tools

Yes, technical writers should be collaborating on their documents, and frequently.  In doing so, information can be shared and work can be handled more efficiently on assigned projects.  In addition, these tools can be connected to management leaders, which can be beneficial.


It seems to be that HTML5 is an up and comer in the technology world, and eventually it will become something that a technical writer may need to document or utilize.  For those who have the time to spare, it never hurts to learn a new technical skill.


Yes, Wikis are great ways of compiling information about a certain subject so it’s easy to access.  Much like collaboration tools, the more you can share information in a centralized way, the more effective a technical writer can be.

Agile Development

And Agile Development is something that many project managers know how to utilize, though this does not mean that everyone needs to know it for technical writing.  Breaking down larger projects into smaller tasks is a good thing, but it may not apply to all documentation.

If you’re looking for work and want to expand your career horizons as a technical writer, it’s certainly worthwhile to be skilled in a number of areas and be adept with a variety of tools. But what do you think the best tools and skills are for a technical writer in 2012 and beyond? Is it just the skill or toolset that applies to the job you’re after? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

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  1. By Techquestioneron 20th, February 2012 at 7:59 pm

    In the more than 30 years I’ve been a technical editor and writer, many tools have emerged and faded, and others have kept evolving to stay popular. The way we provide information keeps evolving, and we know users ane no longer looking for comprehensive printed manauals.The key skills that technical communicators still need, regardless of the method or tools used for presentation, are the ability to assemble and organize appropriate information for a subject or application, and to extract and present that information in a form that enables the people using that information to do their jobs. TechCom job postings are increasing as the economy is improving, and fewer of them are asking for specific tool knowledge. They seem to be concentrating more on basics, like writing experience.

  2. By editoron 20th, February 2012 at 8:44 pm

    @Techquestioner – Thanks for the great comment! You’re right – things evolve, technology evolves, but the basics never go out of style.

  3. By Karenon 21st, February 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I completely agree! I simply cannot find many qualified TWs (or many IDs for that matter). I get piles of resumes that include “technical communication” and many with lots of technical skills. Few, however, can TELL A STORY…it’s about the story for me…the content. I don’t care what you’re documenting or explaining—software, electrical circuits, supply-and-demand, whatever. It’s about the content. I see the industry (and the writers themselves) placing way too much emphasis on technical knowledge, and little on crafting the content itself. Quality content chiseled in stone will always be better than junk delivered via animation and Flash.
    Just my two cents ;-)

  4. By editoron 21st, February 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Karen – great comment. Thanks! Using a source like Writing Assistance can help employers find those candidates more easily as we have a large group from which we can draw.

  5. By Will Kellyon 22nd, February 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I’ve been reading many of the posts about technologies that technical writers need to know and see multiple sides. As a technology early adopter myself, I see some welcome technology changes but question the level of enterprise adoption of the technologies these articles and blog posts cite.

    Personally, I am not interested in what is happening in isolated pockets or seeing a customer locked into a documentation solution they cannot support after the contractors leave. I also read some trepidation on part of some technical writers to these technology changes in the responses to these posts. At least in the IT sector, technical writers need a technology grounding to go along with their writing, editing, and other content skills.

    Additionally, for some of the technologies these articles and posts cite are going to mean the technical writer is going to have to become a full-fledged application owner. Sure, some organizations will welcome technical writers as application owners. However, what about the organizations that cannot move past “this the way it has always been done”? There are also many budget considerations these technical writing trends posts seems to gloss over or miss entirely.

    The larger question I think is what can technical writers (and in turn companies like Writing Assistance) do to get some of these technologies adopted by their employers and clients in a manner that benefits the bottom line and is sustainable for the long term?

  6. By editoron 22nd, February 2012 at 2:54 pm

    @Will Kelly – thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, clearly, technical writers need to have some grounding in technology. I think the point of most of these types of posts is to provide some direction on how technical writers can make themselves more marketable in today’s job situation, with technology and its adoption growing ever so quickly.

    Writing Assistance is not here to encourage clients to adopt specific technologies – only to work with the technologies clients are using and finding good fits with workers who understand those technologies. As you mention, every company’s budget, way of thinking and technical infrastructure is different. Our goal is to provide the right candidate, not mold the company’s use of certain technologies so we can staff them.

    Experienced technical writers can bring technology ideas to the table that can help the team be more effective and efficient, and to help in accomplishing the organization’s goals. That’s important insight that a tech writer brings to the table, especially one who has been inside the organization long enough to know what could work, what would never fly, and what would be a waste of time and money.

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