11 Skills of a Good Technical Writer

Posted in TechComm on 9/3/20177 min read

Skills of a Good Tech Writer

What makes a good tech writer? This profession only seems easy and straightforward. There are many hidden rocks in being a technical writer, and, as for being a good one - there’s even more.

As a company that has a lot of experience of working with technical writers because we create software for technical documentation, we decided to create this list.

If you are an employer looking for a new employee, you can use this article as a checklist. If you are a tech writer, we hope to provide you with ideas for growth.

All the rest - just enjoy reading and learning new things.

Writing skills

The first and foremost, technical writers are supposed to excel at writing itself. The main criteria of good software documentation is the clarity of text. This can be achieved only by someone who knows how to write, how to put the most difficult ideas in simple words.

Technical Writer

A good writer usually just knows these things, feels when to use this or that construction, which words suit best, etc.

All this sounds like some kind of a talent a person either possesses or not. But, in reality, it all comes down to hard work and practice. Read quality texts more, analyze the word choice there, figure out text structures - you will be well under way to improving your writing skill. Or, you can also try attending training sessions on the subject.

Ability to Work with Technical Writing Tools

Technology keeps moving forward. Nowadays, everything is about efficiency, teamwork, and being agile.

The number of companies using software for documentation authoring is going through the roof. No wonder - technical writing tools are designed specially for technical writing, they offer very task-specific functionality alongside with just being a user-friendly text editor.

How can a technical writing tool make the work of a tech communicator easier? As a rule, such tools feature workflows developed for tech writer teams, they support popular tech writing formats like Word, PDF, CHM, etc., and, also, there’s this thing called Single-Sourcing that is able to save a lot of time and effort for a documentation team. As a reference, you can check out a list of features offered by ClickHelp, a tool for online documentation authoring.

A good tech writer needs to be aware of what’s offered on the market. Ideally, they should try out a couple of tools to know how things work and figure out what appeals to them personally.

Research and exploration skills

These skill may concern any tech writer, but, it, probably, affects outsourcers the most.

Working in an outsourcing company means that you have to deal with a variety of client companies you have never heard of and are unaware of their products.

Writing software documentation under such circumstances is a tough call. Only after hours of thorough research you can gather enough information on the given field to start with the writing process.

Besides, doing some research is always great even for the area you feel pretty confident about. Remember, we live in the constantly changing world. So, here’s to double-checking!

Being Systematic

Software documentation is a system. Some user guides can get so big and complex and stuffed with help articles that it is hard to believe that it is a system. Well, maybe, it isn’t anymore. And, that's bad.

First of all, poorly structured documentation ruins user experience as it fails to fulfill its main function - provide people with easily attainable data.

Secondly, documentation writers suffer, as well. When there’s no system it is really hard to maintain the user guide further.

So, a good technical writer is the one who always plans the documentation structure in advance and never makes a mess hoping to clean it up later.

Teamwork

A technical documentation team is part of a bigger mechanism. They must be able to communicate well with other departments.

Teamwork

Tech writers need to talk to one another, editors, designers, developers...

At first, technical writing seems to be the work cut out for introverts, but this appearance is deceitful. Don't forget about all the conferences made by and for technical communicators!

The thing is - a user guide can only be clear and make sense when its author knows how everything works. So, there’s always lot of communication and inquiries about all sorts of things.

Being Good at Single-Sourcing

You can be using a tool for technical writers and never fully realise its potential. Single-Sourcing is a time saver for any tech writer. If you want to be able to get more things done without additional effort, you should learn these techniques.

Basically, Single-Sourcing allows creating multiple documents using one and the same source. For example, there’s a task to create pro and beginner versions of a user guide. With Single-Sourcing, you can create just one document, mark the parts meant for pros only and get two different documents as outputs.

Another example would be the usage of variables in your documentation project. You can create a variable (a kind of a container for keeping some data) with the product version. This way, later, you’ll be able to change the version in your documentation by just changing the variable value once.

Sociology

Knowing the basics of sociology is quite a useful tech communicator skill.

Technical documentation is created for users of some product or service. Each product or service has its core user base and target audience. One of the tasks of any tech writer is to figure out who the end users are. As soon as this is done, the writing process can begin.

The easiest example is the difference between B2C and B2B user guides. In the first case, the explanations must be really simple and somewhat down to earth. While, in the second case, the content is supposed to be deeper, more complex and detailed.

Sociology in terms of documentation authoring is knowing how the readers think and figuring out the best way of delivering content for this particular part of society.

People

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is a broad term. And, also, it seems to be one the most needed skills for a tech writer.

Basically, critical thinking can be explained as the ability to make reasoned and clear judgements.

This concept includes gathering information, analysing and systematizing it. Just being systematic is only a small piece of the whole critical thinking story.

What makes a good critical thinker? Well, most of theories on this matter are saying that the answer is - personal experience. And, this does make sense. The more conscious the whole process of getting and processing information is, the clearer the output will be.

Web Design Basics

This skill is optional. But, recent years show that writing in Notepad is not enough anymore. More and more online documentation tools appear on the market. Some of them offer ready templates that you can use as is or tweak them to your liking. And, the tweaking can also be done using HTML and CSS.

Even if we look from the UX point of view - design can either improve or ruin UX - bad-looking color schemes, ugly screenshots… Users won't be satisfied with this, for sure.

Education

So, does a tech writer need a special diploma?

Yes and no.

Education

Of course, it is somehow easier to become a tech writer than a front-end developer without one. In most cases, you don't need a degree for technical writing. But, still, many employers have certain expectations. Here’s the list of the most appreciated bachelor degrees for a technical writer:

  • Journalism
  • English
  • Communications
  • Computer science
  • Engineering

Common Sense

Yet another ‘must have’ for a tech communicator. And, for any human being for that matter.

Your common sense will help you see when you are doing the right thing. Like, how many screenshots will be enough to explain this topic on rocket science. If your common sense is telling you that no screenshots are needed for rocket science, than I’ve got bad news for you ;)

Reality checks help restore common sense greatly. Don't be too self-assured too often - go ask around and listen to people’s opinions.

Conclusion

The list of skills that can be useful for any tech writer is now complete. This doesn’t mean, of course, that a technical writer has to be all of these things, no. But, in tech writing, like in any other professional field, there’s always an opportunity to grow as a specialist.

If you are really interested in achieving a lot as a tech writer, check out the blog post we have recently published on what a technical writer career path can look like. We hope, that this info combined will show you the direction towards improvement and success.

Good Luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Online Technical Writing & Documentation Tools

 

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