Several years ago, I was part of a team documenting a fairly complex suite of telecommunications apps. One day, while working on a particularly thorny section of a manual, one of my colleagues turned to me and said “Are we supposed to understand this stuff?”
While I’ve met quite a few writers with strong technical skills and knowledge, I’ve also found that the attitude expressed by my former colleague isn’t uncommon among technical writers, of any level of experience. Remember that in title “technical writer” the technical part can often be just as important as the writer part.
I’ve always believed that to be an effective technical writer, you need more than knowledge of the tools of the trade and to be able to write. You need a good grounding in the software, hardware, and technologies that are used by your employer. Maybe not to the level of the system architects and developers, but more than a cursory knowledge. And if you don’t have that knowledge or those skills, you should be willing and able to learn — either by taking courses, reading books, or asking a lot of seemingly dumb questions.
For a longer take on this topic, read this article at techwriter.dk.
One subject that tends to get missed when people think about technical writers is the writer aspect of the job. Many of us can write, and more than just documentation. Unfortunately, in many cases this flexibility is overlooked or blatantly ignored.
This article looks at how some technical writers moved into other writing-related roles within their organizations.
DMN Communications has the skills and experience to tackle many of your writing projects. In addition to documentation, we’ve written articles, reports, and whitepapers; developed how-to and tutorial content; and have even created marketing collateral. Contact us for information on how we can add value to your writing projects.
More often than not, technical writers are seen as a cost rather than a benefit. How do we demonstrate value? The key is to provide employers or clients with a measurable benefit. Time is money. Here are our top tips:
- Demonstrate how your documentation allows users to complete a task in a shorter amount of time. Use numbers to prove your point.
- Explain how good documentation adds brand value. User guides and online help are often a user’s first experiences with your product. A great user experience builds buzz and can be an excellent sales tool.
- Explain how you can do more with less by single sourcing and centralized content management. Reducing redundancy increases document production efficiencies.
Software documentation isn’t just a collection of books and files that no one reads. It can be a powerful tool to generate sales and to improve customer satisfaction, as this article points out. The fact that the article appears in a publication aimed at software executives is telling.
DMN Communications can help you develop documentation and collateral that will not only keep your customers satisfied but also give them the knowledge to do more on their own. And that means a potential drop in support time and costs.
Contact us for more information on how we can help you, or read this brochure.
You’d think this was common sense, but seeing as how common sense isn’t always as common as we’d like to believe, there’s the Technical Writer’s Checklist. Billed as “the guide to accurate writing”, it’s a two-volume set that outlines all the steps, from beginning to end, that will help you craft better documentation.
No, I’m not joking, I said it. Respect.
For all of you new to the field, you’re probably experiencing what most new technical writers experience – a lack of respect. Perhaps you’ve heard some of the following phrases while working desperately to crank out that seemingly never ending manual:
Get the tech writer to take meeting minutes.
Maybe the tech writer can fix this printer.
Our software does not run on grammar.
Can you type this memo for me?
I’m sure other seasoned writers can attest to even more outrageous comments and demands than these. Commanding respect as a technical writer does not happen overnight. You will never be seen as an equal in the development organization, even at the most doc progressive companies out there, so you may as well forget about that right now. But there are some things that you can do to boost your stature around the old cube farm. Here are our top 5:
- Become a product expert
- Ask intelligent questions
- Be curious. Very curious.
- Don’t waste other people’s time
- Deliver what you promise