Technical Writing Agency Australia

What makes a good technical writer?

So, you want to be a technical writer. Oh, you want to be a good technical writer - even better. Well let’s start with what skills you need as a technical writer and then you can add the greatness.

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There are several specialist niches for technical writers but as the term suggests it requires a slightly technical capability because you are conveying technical information, such as ICT, science, engineering, PMO (Project Management Office), training and medical. You don’t need to have a specific degree to become a great technical writer, although that is a good start. If you don’t have a technical degree, you will benefit if you have some practical experience in IT or communications, say as a teacher or a journalist.

Irrespective of the area you elect to specialise in, you will need to bring these core qualities to your client:

These are key qualities you need to become the best technical writer. Apart from these, you also need to develop hard and soft skillsets.

Key competencies for a technical writer

A good technical writer needs to be competent in:

The above listing of competencies shouldn’t prove a barrier to anyone who has been at university or in the workforce for a year or two.

The soft skillset for a technical writer

The most important soft skill for a technical writer is to be able to effective secure interviews and meetings with SMEs. Why? Because they know and understand the process. An SME can be a business user, an analyst, accountant, scientist – in other words, anyone with knowledge about the process.

However, accessing SMEs can become more difficult if teams shrink in size, and team members’ BAU (Business as Usual) tasks increase in volume. If your task is to develop short documents, you will find it easier to involve an SME than if you are documenting a large system, and you should be prepared for this. A large system requires multiple interviews with the SME(s) and the SME(s) may not have much appetite for investing time in your deliverable. So judge your requirements for a series of briefings with their desire to get on with other work and try to persuade them to meet with you. Sometimes, you are left with no alternative but to escalate either to your manager or theirs. It can be tricky.

The following roadblocks with your SMEs may appear:

Your objective should be to interview the SME, get the information you need as quickly as possible and then write it up.

The alternative source of gathering information is to work through the actual process yourself, documenting it as you go along. A SME can then review your process description and makes changes. You need to find a method of documenting processes that is adaptable to change and is easy to review. I find that documenting a short process is best done in a Word document that is shared with the SME. Large or complex processes are best rendered into a Visio flow diagram as a first step. S hare the Visio diagram with the relevant staff to ensure you have the end-to-end process correctly documented and then convert it to a document.

The secret sauce that makes you a good technical writer

The secret sauce is being curious – ask as many questions as you can think of while you are interviewing the SME. The act of asking questions also ensures that you understand the process well enough to discuss it.


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