10 Tips for Technical Writers
August 19, 2006 • Glenn Murray
Tech-writing is a tricky business. It’s not a very high profile industry, so there’s not much support around. Follow these 10 quick tips, and you’ll be well on your way to a satisfying tech-writing career.
- Follow a sensible career path…STEP 1: Start in a team
STEP 2: Stay only just long enough
STEP 3: Manage yourself
STEP 4: Manage a team
STEP 5: Go contracting (depends on the market)
- Knowledge is your lifeblood – learn the politics of your company. Know who knows what. Find someone who consistently gives you timely, reliable, technically accurate answers, and get their name tattooed on your shoulder! Every company has at least one. And they may not be in the project manager/product manager/customer/programmer roles. They are generally the people who’ve used the product in the real world, and dealt with real world customers.
- Communicate WITH, not AT. Tech-writers don’t have enough power to get away with communicating at.
- Track stuff (take spreadsheet printout and write it up on the board).
- Develop good product and domain knowledge – The more you can figure out for yourself, the better off you’ll be (and the more respect you’ll get from the techies).
- Find out who your users are, what they are trying to do, what they are having trouble doing, and how they want to be helped. Then provide this assistance. Help the user do what they are trying to do. Don’t just tell them what the product can do… a help system is only helpful if it addresses the users’ needs.
- Treat everyone as a customer. Then manage their expectations and your commitments. Always ensure they know what you’re doing. Tell them when you’ll be finished. And pull out all stops to meet your deadline.
- Provide a surrogate user testing mechanism for the development team – providing usability feedback.
- Work as hard as required to get good quality doco finished on time and to budget – this is how you’ll get the satisfaction out of work that you need.
- Have fun with it.
Don’t become jaded and cynical by the high-tech, harsh, uncaring IT world. Use your smarts, and make the most of the resources provided. Most importantly of all, make work satisfaction your number 1 goal. It’s the best way to stay happy and get ahead.