Knowledge. It’s one of those things that’s indispensable for a technical communicator. In fact, without a certain amount of knowledge we can’t do our jobs properly. But how much knowledge is enough? Or too much? Or too little?
I’ve been thinking about that on and off for the last little while. In my case, the right amount of knowledge will vary from gig to gig and assignment to assignment.
What I find useful is gaining situational knowledge. Interested? Well, read on.
I define situational knowledge as the knowledge you have for the duration of a project or release, but which you’ll probably let fade after six months (or less). Maybe it won’t fade, but it won’t be as far to the front of your brain as newer knowledge you pick up.
Whether comes to concepts or tools, I’ve based a large portion of my career on situational knowledge. And that’s regardless of whether I’ve been a full-time employee or a contractor. To paraphrase one of my favourite musicians, Bill Bruford, I rarely acquire knowledge for sake of acquiring it. Instead I acquire knowledge to solve a problem or to be able to write about something more effectively. Luckily, my years in journalism school helped me develop solid research skills.
Someone once described this as an A-B-C … N-O-P … approach. In fact, I think I have what Bruford calls classic amateur’s technique: I know some basics, and have some more advanced knowledge of certain topics. But there are also large holes in what I know.
But I don’t see that as a disadvantage. In fact, this approach can be a major advantage, especially as a consultant: it makes me more flexible and adaptable. I can quickly learn what need to know to effectively do a job.
Obviously, this isn’t the only route to take. There are areas where you need more in-depth, A-Z knowledge. Like what? Like when you’re documenting and/or maintaining operational procedures, troubleshooting guides, disaster management/recovery documentation, documenting APIs, and the like.
I don’t advocate one route. The situational route has worked for me throughout my life, and not just in TC. I also realize that many people aren’t comfortable taking that route. They need more structure and more depth.
Thoughts? As always, feel free to leave a comment.