Technical Writing for Dummies – Do you have it in you to be a technical writer?

I met an old classmate of mine the other day after a long hiatus. While catching up with what our numerous other common friends were up to, she asked me what it was that I did for a living. When I told her that I was a technical writer, she seemed rather excited and asked if she could try her hand at it too. After all, according to her, she knew English, had written essays in school and spoke the language like a native!

That got me thinking. What does it take to be an effective technical writer? Is an elementary knowledge of English enough? I wish it was! Because if that were true, we wouldn’t be facing such a shortage of good technical writers. A tech writer has to be the whole package. Here are a few things this package should definite include:

  • The ability to write:
    The name says it all – technical writerAlso speaking and writing are two very different skills; a good speaker does not necessarily make a good writer (and vice versa!).

  • The ability to grasp technology:
    This includes the aptitude to understand technical concepts and the willingness to be updated about the latest trends. This can also extend to your ability to understand concepts explained by SMEs, decode jargons, ask relevant questions, and then convert the information into useful content.

  • The ability to see the big picture:
    It isn’t just enough to look at each task in isolation and convert them into a series of steps. An effective tech writer must also be able to take a macro view of the product and all use cases and then comprehend how every modular task must come together to create a cohesive help guide.

  • An eye for detail:
    This includes something as plebeian as inserting commas into the right places and putting periods at the end of sentences to something as vital as “seeing the usually unseen” – Is the flow of content appropriate? Is the language consistent across the publication? Are document conventions being followed correctly? Is the help guide really helpful?

  • The ability to tell a story:
    More and more technical documents are moving toward visual media from plain text. This means that, rather than simply using the right words in a conventional manual, a tech writer must be able to transform steps and explanations into a narrative that tells a story.

An effective tech writer must also be proficient with the tools of the trade. These may include text editors like MS Office; help authoring tools like RoboHelp and Madcap Flare; screen capture and photo editors like Paint, Snag-it, or Photoshop; and increasingly video development tools like Captivate or Camtasia. Quite a lot of technical documents are authored in a collaborative environment these days. Therefore, collaboration platforms like Wiki and Confluence are gaining importance, especially if the authors are working from multiple locations.

As must be evident (from this list which is hardly exhaustive!), some of these skills are inherent and others can be picked up with the right training and mentoring. If you think you have what it takes to become a technical writer and would need help with picking up the other essentials skills that can be taught, our Technical Writing training program may be just what you need. 

Interested? Write to us!


Category: Content Development, Documentation, Technical Writing, Technical Writing for Dummies


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