7 Skills Technical Writers Need

When you think of technical writing, what comes to mind?

Do you think of someone sitting all alone in a cubicle, glued to a computer screen, diligently documenting complex software?

While it’s true that technical writers are often involved in software documentation, most of the technical writing stereotype described above is a myth. Today’s technical communicator is not an isolated scribe closeted away somewhere out of the company’s main activities, but rather a vital part of a company’s development team. He or she must work closely with other team members to produce the most useful materials for the company’s clients.

(I use the term technical communicator because it is a more accurate description of what today’s technical writers actually do today, which usually involves more than just writing.)

Projects that technical communicators are often involved in include:

  • Client analysis
  • Testing software applications
  • Usability issues
  • Development of integrated online help systems
  • Creation of end user training materials
  • Editing corporate documents
  • Design videos and films

As result of their technical writing work, most successful technical communicators develop the following highly marketable skills:

  1. Interview skills. Technical writers are accustomed to interviewing both clients and subject matter experts, so most develop good interviewing techniques.
  2. Teamwork. As I pointed out earlier, good technical documentation is a team effort. Most technical writers are good team players.
  3. Detail orientation. Accuracy is a key part of technical communication, so a successful technical notices important details.
  4. Ability to meet deadlines. While deadlines are not a part of many jobs, technical writers are accustomed to working with deadline pressure.
  5. Peer management. Large technical communication projects are often broken into smaller parts and given to different technical writers to complete.
  6. Ability to learn quickly. Nearly every technical communication requires the technical writer to learn something new and learn it well.
  7. Communication skills. Of course, the core skill of technical communication is the ability to communicate well to a variety of audiences.

Plus, many former technical communicators have moved out of the software development arena and into other areas of the company where good communication skills are vital such as:

  • Quality programs like process development for a company’s ISO program
  • Project and program management
  • Marketing communications
  • Client/company interface
  • Corporate internet and intranet website management

Also, a few technical communicators (such as myself) have used the skills that they learned through technical writing and successfully launched their own businesses.

As you can see, there is much more to technical writing and technical communication than meets the eye. It takes a whole complement of highly marketable skills to succeed as a technical writer─skills that can carry over into many different fields.

About the Author: Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional writing experience including technical writing. Laura blogs at WritingThoughts and at Freelance Folder http://freelancefolder.com.

Pic by Jo Jakeman