The following core competencies you need to possess to succeed in technical writing:
- Written and Oral Communication Proficiency – Proficiency in grammar, usage, and mechanics is vital to a writer’s daily work. As technical writers, you must not expel raw materials but transmute it to provide what the reader most wants by steering away from dangling modifiers, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, split infinitives, etc. that can impede legibility or learning. The objective is to make the readers understand the topic quickly. The readers are not going to spend hours reading the document. A basic principle of good writing style is to abstain from unnecessary words. The shorter, simple words or expressions make your writing more concise and, consequently, make it look and sound more professional. Always provide a brief description of the subject followed by steps to achieve. Provide screenshots where possible. Another primary focus should be to improve your Template. Use numbering if the steps are to be performed in a sequential manner otherwise use bullets. The title and headings should convey the subject matter. The headings, steps, and body text should follow a consistent format.
- Research skills – You must have a passion for research and learn new technologies. The technical writers are lifelong learners. The one hallmark of the technical writer is the acknowledgment of the room for improvement. There are plenty of domains for technical writing— IT, electronics, oil and gas, pharmacy, science, solar panels or digital gaming but we share the same passion, that is, curiosity.
- Learning new tools and technology – Writers must be willing to master tools that come across their way. The commonly used tools for documentation are Word, FrameMaker, and RoboHelp. Familiarity with Version Control tools is equally important.
- Creative skills – Being a technical writer does not mean you stop being creative. There are creative ways to illustrate complex ideas in the form of graphic, video, and audio in addition to content. In a lot of cases, you have to think outside the box to find the solution. Put yourselves in users’ shoes to get a sense of how they will use the product and what they are going to look for in the documentation. You want to communicate the message in the simplest way possible, but at the same time in a creative manner.
- Team building skills – No man is an island. Although you may be a lone writer in the company, you must collaborate with SMEs, product owners, QA folks to accomplish your goal. In my research, the one skill that management craves above all others is for the writers to work well and excel in a team setting. Also desired is the ability to transform dysfunctional behaviors into more functional ones or to at least be able to operationalize problems, avoid distractions, and keep on schedule.
- Interviewing, and listening skills – As part of your job, you must have an inquisitive mindset to ask questions. At the end of the day, the most important Technical Writing principle is “If you do not know – ASK”. Writers are expected to ask questions until they are confident that they have the information needed to write content. Just remember, unanswered questions contribute ambiguity to the content and add risk to the business. You can gather information via different ways such as email, Skype, Adobe shared review process or meet up to discuss and build consensus when there are conflicting opinions. You need to have good listening skills and allow the SMEs to talk while you take notes or record the meeting minutes to digest rapid explanations.
- Detail orientation – Pay attention to detail. Follow the approved style guides. Engage with several levels of editing to help your audience and to free your work of errors. A writer’s work requires quality control because it reflects directly upon the professional ethos of the organization. Proofread, proofread, proofread!