Want to become a technical writer? Check the list of the skills you need to build to get the job. Here is what you should be able to do:
- Education. In most cases, companies don’t require the tech writing background. You can have a degree in Applied Linguistics and Translation, and this will be a great basis to start. I worked as a translator and then became a tech writer. You can read my story here: From Translator to Technical Writer.
- Write plainly and rationally. This is the core competency demanded of a technical writer because the main goal of the profession is to help users grasp the main idea easily, and a technical writer is supposed to be able to write clearly avoiding complex sentence structure.
- Know how to format your writing. You should not only be able to write a text, but to present it in a visually appealing and easy-to-read manner. A wall of text is difficult to read. Even the clearest instructions can be lost in a document that has poor visual representation. The formatting should be clean and professional. Well-chosen, readable fonts, sizing, and layout are what you should be able to use thoughtfully to make your text more helpful for your audience.
- Use documentation tools. Most documents are created in online documentation tools. It’s a convenient way of storing user documentation as it can be reached easily by readers, authors, reviewers — they just need the Internet connection and a browser. Less and less companies use MS Word; some commonly used tools are ClickHelp, Adobe FrameMaker, MadCap Flare, RoboHelp as they are user-friendly and created to ease tech writers life, but to be a confident computer user is essential to use those tools effectively.
- Have design sense. As tech writers use online documentation tools, they should have design sense to make their doc portal and documentation more company-related. You can look through designs of online documentation here to see how modern documentation looks and what you will have to do.
- Test tools. Sometimes tech writers take part in usability testing and validating documentation to confirm that a product works as it is documented.
- Love science and technology. Tech writers are desired in industries like IT, engineering, medicine, aerospace and so on. In spite of the fact that you don’t need a relevant degree, you should be able to understand how a specific tool or device work to describe its features correctly.
- Learn new things. Technical writers should upgrade their skills constantly as technology is developed and to stay relevant. It implies visiting conferences, reading books (not only tech writing related), and taking courses. I know, after office hours it’s difficult to concentrate and there is no desire to read a book, and I must say, I also like to play video games after work, but I try to follow my New Year resolutions 🙂
- Analyze audience. To write powerful documentation, you should be able to analyze your target audience before starting writing and after doc publication. Effective method to communicate with your audience is to gather a focus group and ask them questions. After publication you should analyze statistics of views, bounce rate, search query reports and so on. For this purpose, you should have strong analytical skills.
- Communicate with people. You will communicate not only with your audience but with members of other teams: developers, designers, SMEs, and the like, to learn more about a product. In this role, therefore, you cannot be too shy to ask the ‘dumb questions’.You have to be a talented communicator, listener, and interviewer, in short, you should be like a journalist. Unfortunately, if you have social anxiety, this profession may not suit you.
- Proofread carefully. Typos, mistakes are inappropriate in documentation, and what you’re supposed to do is to proofread your docs by yourselves. It’s difficult to find mistakes in your own text, but it’s a considerable part of the work.
What other skills helped you to get the technical writing job?