First, let’s clear things up a bit: what do we mean by ‘language skills’ here? Of course, we’re not talking about the talent to write a poem or add epithets and mind blowing metaphors or similes to the text. Under ‘language skills’ we understand the ability to create coherent text with correct grammar, style, punctuation. This does sound like a very important skill for a tech writer. And, if we take a look at the most common educational backgrounds of technical writers, we will notice that a lot of them are connected with languages – linguistics, journalism, translation, etc.
But, is this aspect really that important? Well, yes. Technical documentation is, basically, the easiest connection one can establish between a user and a company. Through user manuals, your clients can perceive how much you actually care about them. Contacting support is, as a rule, only the second option, as it involves more actions and more potential stress of human interaction. Even salespeople know that – the current trend there is giving a client the ability to order stuff and pay for it without any human interaction whatsoever.
If technical documentation is poorly written, your clients will most likely take you for someone untrustworthy. If your technical writers cannot get spelling right, your quality control is probably a mess, and who knows what is going on in R’n’D! Okay, so, language skills seem to be important. Let’s see how technical skills in tech writing are doing.
The importance of technical skills in technical writing keeps increasing. This is also connected to the fact that more companies now understand the importance of user documentation and are willing to hire technical writing specialists instead of allocating this task to members of other teams, that is, a developer or a tester writing docs would have enough technical knowledge already. But not every tech writer does.
If we take the software industry as an example, quite often, technical writers need to know at least one programming language to get the job. This trend is understandable. Being able to explain difficult concepts to different target audiences is only possible if the person behind the writing knows the topic well. Plus, software documentation can contain code examples, so technical writers might be asked to create those themselves.
Basically, it all comes down to this – if you have a nice set of technical skills, you can find a better deal. Great technical skills for tech writers to have now are API and, probably, DITA. API’s presence is very strong at this moment, so, if you would like to get some extra skill – try moving in this direction. These two would be perfect to mention in a tech writer’s CV. Another important technical aspect to be aware of – technical writing tools. Most companies are using them nowadays. To get the general idea of a HAT, you can give the ClickHelp 30-day trial a go. It is free and unlimited functionality-wise. Of course, not every technical writer position requires a strong technical background. But, technical knowledge will certainly give you a head start.
Can anyone become a technical writer? Probably, yes. Will building a career be easier for people with certain language and technical skills? Most definitely! One shouldn’t also overlook the fact that there are some more skills and even personality traits a tech writer should have.
To sum everything up: if you want to achieve something great, you need to work on yourself. This is true for almost everything in life, and technical writing is no exception.
Good luck with your technical writing!
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices