Defining a Technical Writer

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    In today’s world, a Technical Writer wears many hats and possesses many traits. A Technical Writer will wear hats as an Interviewer, Researcher, Analyst, Editor, and Tester, just to mention a few. The one trait they all have in common is that they must be extremely detailed. The Technical Writer has to be a detail-oriented individual with the ability to communicate to their audience via text and images. The Technical Writer has to have a sense of curiosity in order to understand and write about the framework of a product or technical information. Whether it’s as simple as writing about how and when to press a key or as complex as describing the steps involved in building a new application from inception to completion, the writer will need to be able to communicate every detail effectively.

    Some other qualities that a Technical Writer has are:

    Interviewing Skills:

    The Technical Writer needs to be able to interview subject matter experts, project managers, co-workers, users, and clients in order to gather any relevant information needed to complete a set of documentation. They will use their interpersonal skills to understand the target audience and to find out what they need in order to complete the documentation. They will also use these skills to work with subject matter experts to gather information such as the background of a project, the steps for running routine processes or finding out what changes to the product were needed, made, and why.

    Research Skills:

    The Technical Writer may need to perform research for various types of tools needed to complete a document. They may need to research for an appropriate storyboard or animation tool to use along with the document to add visual clarity. If the document contains a lot of data, a suitable data diagramming tool may be needed where you can define elements and their attributes, or a querying tool to present relevant data effectively.

    Analyst Skills:

    The Technical Writer may need to gather and analyze data to produce certain types of requested reports, or to create data files and be able to report on them to management. By knowing how the data was gathered and the mechanisms used to derive the results, the writer could then translate the information, and be able to format and present it in simpler terms. For example, if a computer hardware problem affected data results, the writer would work with those involved to summarize the incident, define the causes, and recommend solutions for presentations to other teams or for future referral.

    Testing Skills:

    The Technical Writer may need to perform tests to ensure that everything documented was accurate and valid. For example, if Test Plans for the Quality Assurance group were needed to be written, the Technical Writer must write clearly and concisely about reviewed processes, procedures, hardware, and/or software applications as a part of the test plan. To further the example, if an application field that accepts data needs to be tested, the test plan would need to contain every possible scenario imaginable to test out that particular field.

    Information Sensitivity Skills:

    The Technical Writer has to have an eye for detail and be able to write what the reader needs to know, especially when it comes to confidential information. They have to be able to distinguish what is important to document and what is not. This can be determined by reviewing the requirements of an end user‘s purpose of the document. For example, an IT Systems requirement document could be used by a business sponsor to justify the project expenditure and an IT project manager would use it to make sure all of the high level requirements are a part of the project plan.

    So, how do you know if you have the aptitude or talent to be a Technical Writer? If you are a good listener, enjoy learning and enjoy sharing information with others, then you can be a Technical Writer. What distinguishes some writers as Technical writers is that they write about technical subjects within different industries and have the industry knowledge to do so. They could be working within a software, manufacturing, financial, automobile, pharmaceutical, or publishing company and must have familiarity with the industry terminology.

    But what types of documents does a Technical Writer create? That question will be answered in the next post. I hope you will enjoy these posts on technical writing as much as I enjoy writing them. If you have any questions or would like more detail on certain topics, please leave a comment.