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I am seeing there is still a great interest in people wanting to become Technical Writers. For that reason, I am going to review some steps to become one.
If you are currently employed:
• write about your job and what the requirements are for that position.
• write about all your daily tasks and how long it takes to perform the job.
• begin to write even if it is about a simple process or procedure that you perform daily.
• create mappings or diagrams depicting those procedures.
This is a good way to see if you really would like to become a Technical Writer because when you begin to write about your functions, you can see that it is not an easy task.
To improve your skills, take classes to develop and improve:
• your writing and grammar skills, as documents have to be clear, precise, and error-free.
• your communication skills for not only conveying instructions verbally and within documents, but for also improving your listening skills.
To search out writing opportunities, you could:
• begin by reviewing a list of potential jobs and their requirements. Find and focus on those companies that interest you and see what types of documents they produce, review their style of writing, and see if you can be of help to them. Also, consider other writing opportunities and see if you can begin to work as an intern.
• look into communication as well as presentation positions as these also involve a lot of writing. From that experience, you can then call yourself a Technical Communicator. Also look into analysis, coordinator, translator, and training positions as they all involve communication and writing skills.
• look into freelancing positions to make sure you would enjoy being a Technical Writer. These positions will allow you to experience what it is like to have to stick to set deadlines and simultaneously be flexible enough to adjust to changing requirements. In other words, it will show you how adaptable you are.
• become a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in a particular field by taking classes for any technical skills that really interest you, and write about it.
• start off in a writing group to meet others and network. With today’s social media advantages, join groups on and off line and communicate\meet up with others.
The skills for a successful technical writing career are similar to those for success in any career. Be focused, logical, organized creative, persistent, know the product, and apply the new platinum rule ‘treat others the way they would like to be treated’. If you do not get along with your clients, users, or SMEs then you won’t be successful. Make sure you understand each other and that you are all on the same page when beginning a new project and especially when writing globally.
As a Technical Writer you will be writing among other documents, Requirement, Technical, and Functional Specifications, as well as being an Analyst, Usability Expert, and Designer. This is a very multifaceted career if you enjoy writing.
If you have more to add to this review, please leave a comment. Thank you.
A Technical Writer needs to create a Knowledge Community. How and why we need a Knowledge Community you ask? Being a Technical Writer can be difficult when trying to obtain knowledge. Whom do you consider for contacting, where do you look. How do you decide if you should gather knowledge verbally face-to-face or in meetings, by sending out emails, or by checking past documentation (of any kind such as newsletters, marketing or training material); if there are any.
The key to creating a Knowledge Community is through collaboration. Collaboration will allow you to create plans, meet others, become more innovative, share information, learn, and more.
This allows us to be more organized and efficient. Collaborate in order to set timelines, to define scopes for projects, to maintaining accuracy, to set up contingency plans, to define security issues, to define marketing strategies, and most importantly to define policies and procedures.
This allows us to meet others with whom we can share our concerns, status, and information, as well as meet with others whom we thought we never needed. Collaborate to meet others either by meeting face-to-face or by catching your knowledge holders whenever an wherever you can; even at the coffee station or vending machines. Collaborating and working with colleagues allows us to meet with SMEs, developers, product managers, stakeholders, etc. to gather any new and necessary information.
Becoming More Innovative
This allows us to be more creative in developing our content as well as developing new ideas. Collaborate and use your interpersonal skills to work with colleagues to gather information to become more innovative. Collaborate with, e.g., stakeholders who have an investment or interest in the project. Use your excellent communication skills to understand your stakeholders in order to develop creative unique content, specifications, methodologies, processes, etc.
This allows us to work better as a team. Collaborate in order to have an exchange of knowledge. The more collaboration and information sharing we do, the more knowledgeable we become, resulting in more exposure to different thoughts and ideas. This can all lead to faster problem solving, as well as new opportunities, insights, visions, etc.
This allows us to become more knowledgeable and proficient in gathering and sharing of information. Working in groups is always better than working alone. Collaborate and use your technical and analytical skills to understand and organize complex technical information. Learning leads to more experience, skills, and positive outcomes.
Creating a Knowledge Community
Collaborating allows us to create a center or a core of communication that can be used to harness information gathering. It will allow us to bring colleagues together to share and learn, to be more confident and skilled, to define data, to improve decision making, to share experiences, for continuing education, to improve communication, etc. This Knowledge Community can be created internally or globally. This can all be done as long as collaboration exists among colleagues. It can be like a one stop shop for information.
If you have created a Knowledge Community or have had experience with one, please leave a comment. Thank you.
Everyone gets stressed out at work no matter what your job function. As a Technical Writer, you too will probably have situations at one time or other where you get stressed out as well. In order to avoid communicating less or ineffectively, take a break or slow down for a while. Here are a few other ideas to get you through the rough times.
Be Positive – the work will get done. Staying positive reflects on your coworkers and your team, so this will show them that everything is under control, and hence more productivity will occur. Remaining positive also allows you to communicate more effectively and precisely. It allows you to remain calm and to express yourself better. Use this technique in meetings especially when the Technical Writer has to gather relevant information from those that oppose what you are doing (as not everyone likes to share pertinent information) or when you have to get an extension on your part of the project for when unaccounted problems occur.
Be Organized – know what your schedule is. Create your own project plan (or To Do List) and include extra time for unforeseen incidents. Create a ‘what if’ road map that shows what path to take for certain situations, such as, what if a team member calls out or is unavailable, or what if the delivery date is moved up, or a rewrite is necessary because of a drastic change in an application you were writing about.
Be Focused – keep the end goal in mind. Make sure you are retrieving the right information by asking all the relevant questions you need to for gathering your data. For example, ask about previous procedures and processes and who was in charge of those so that you can refer back to them if needed. Next, create an outline. When you are ready to begin writing, create a mapping and see if you need to update or include any other data.
Be Available – let others know how you can be reached in case of changes that might affect the outcome of the project or if approval is needed for, e.g., approvals or updates to tables, charts, images, etc., that are to be included in a document.
Be Mindful – know what has to be done. Begin your necessary documents as soon as you can to stay ahead. You can also plan ahead by creating contingency plans for any unexpected delays and bottlenecks. Also, make sure that all known problems are resolved. When planning out documentation projects, such as, analyzing project requirements, identifying types of documents required, selecting resources for writing and gathering data, and setting milestones, also make sure you have the right tools available and the budget required to complete the project. And lastly,
Be An Editor and review everything. Make sure you have written the right amount of information for the right people. For example, has the documentation been written for the novice user or management.
If you have other ideas to add about how to lessen stress, please leave a comment. Thank you.
Trying to communicate technical information to various cultures is not as simple as others may think. For a technical communicator, it requires more than just training, because being moderately acquainted with cultural differences is just not enough.
A previous post that I had written on communicating globally, noted that ‘Individuals need to understand the culture; their language, ethics, principles of value, moral codes, etc. …’ I still think those are very important attributes. However, being ‘likeminded’ should also be added to the list.
What is important is not only being able to communicate the ‘right words’ clearly and correctly, but to also be able to be ‘likeminded’ with the audience so that they can really understand what you are saying.
For example, within technical documentation, writing ‘Click the box.’ may have an individual trying to tap on any box on a monitor screen, whereas writing the instruction ‘Put a check mark in the box beside the appropriate….’ might have been more easily understood. It is important that the communicator be able to relate to, understand, and recognize how the audience accepts those words in order to ensure that the information is transferred correctly.
I would also like to include just one more critical item to the list, and that is ‘empathy’, because it is important to understand how the individual will perceive the information, and that can be defined as having empathy. How someone responds to words depends on how they are related to or connected to those words.
For example, saying to someone that you think they are ‘working too hard’, could actually be misinterpreted as a criticism and not a nice comment on their good work ethics. They may mistakenly interpret it as they are working too slow. The individual may be very sensitive and insecure about themselves and so may take the statement the wrong way. To get around this, it is a good idea to smile when a statement is made and follow it with another statement about the individual, such as, ‘Your work is so good, you don’t have to work so much or so hard’.
The above were simple examples. But more importantly, to ensure that everyone is on the same page, connecting by being ‘likeminded’ and having ‘empathy’ for your audience is as important as other items previously listed. This is really important especially when creating requirement specifications at the onset of the project (as those documents are an agreement between management and their client describing the background of a project as well as how and what is needed to complete the project). Hence if you do not explain a project correctly in the beginning, then any succeeding specifications (technical, functional, etc.) will not be correct.
As an added note, your audience has a stake in understanding what is communicated, so be understanding and be aware of the above factors mentioned before you make a statement or convey your information. These factors lead to less misinterpretation when writing or speaking to your audience. It also makes us aware of possibly different expectations as well.
If you have other thoughts on relating to the audience, please leave a comment. Thank you.
A Technical Writer possesses a lot of technical knowledge such as in software and data skills, including investigating, researching and being a middleman between the target audience, management, technical personnel (I.e., programmers, engineers), and others. Being a Technical Writer means being able to gather, communicate, and translate essential and necessary technical information between different groups of people.
-As mentioned, Technical Writers (TWs) have a different set of skills than other writers, – they are more technology oriented. Their skills are constantly evolving. Today, TWs have now also emerged as Content Writers, Managers, Web Content Writers, and Web Managers.
A Technical Writer needs to be able to find their SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) and collaborate; create relationships and work with them to accomplish their writing task. They must know and understand their target audience and their preferences, such as finding out what they want and need, and the format (be it video, print matter, charts, or training sessions) they would like for absorbing the information.
A Technical Writer is involved in organizing and analyzing information and data, logistics, methodology, testing, specifications, development, and much more. How TWs generate their information is not easy. Depending on their position and or task, they may also have to write as speakers, sellers, instructors, commentators, or even researchers.
As mentioned, Technical Writers (TWs) have a different set of skills than other writers, – they are more technology oriented. Their skills are constantly evolving. Today, TWs have now also emerged as Content Writers, Managers, Web Content Writers, and Web Managers.
Other writers (non-technical) will create text containing less technical or industry related content. They may be in the field of news, selling, or commentators using avenues such as videos, presentations, marketing, white papers, or even blogging to communicate their interests or topics. In other words the content can be whatever information they need to relate to others – there may or not be a particular target audience.
The basic ideals and requirements are still the same for the TW and other content writers. They are knowledgeable in their specialty fields (manufacturing, pharmacy, education, development, business, etc.) and they know how to write – clearly and concisely; whether it’s on the web, through text, or any other media. No matter which role is taken, the writer has to have a key understanding of what the audience needs and to tailor it to them. The writer has to be able to be a good listener, focused, and be able to adjust their writing accordingly. Also, they should like the topic they are writing about.
In the end, the difference between a Technical Writer and any other writer depends on the job qualifications and position. As either writer, you may at one time or other have to write in either format. What really matters is that you like to share valuable information and can write in a manner that everyone understands.
And, as always, communication is the key in the field of writing.
If you have a different view, please leave a comment.
Not long ago I worked with an energetic, creative group who, while focusing on presentation skills, wondered how to best engage their audiences. I asked them what engagement strategies they appreciated when they were in the audience. They had plenty of ideas about engagement techniques that I think any speaker could benefit from. These are relatively simple, and I think most of them are pretty “foolproof” as long as you approach your audience with confidence and curiosity.
As you read the list, take note of which ideas appeal to you. Which ones have you tried? What is one new idea that you might want to try? Start today to go beyond just “telling.” Get creative in order to involve and engage your listeners.
Plan an interactive opening using questions, asking for a show of hands, etc.
Ask participants to introduce themselves.
Ask participants to write down their burning questions before you begin.
Do a paper or online survey prior to meeting to engage them in thinking before they arrive.
Focus on benefits to the audience, asking them to confirm the benefits are important to them.
Ask questions of the audience during the presentation.
Welcome humor that happens (but avoid jokes.)
Enliven your slides with pictures you have taken of people, product, or locations (a great tip is to use pictures of your team when presenting to customers.)
Insert short video clips to hear from clients, experts, or leaders.
Create a “Round Robin” discussion to hear from everyone, especially when brainstorming or seeking opinions. Encourage everyone to take a turn, but allow them to “pass” if they don’t have an idea.
Ask listeners to discuss concerns or topics with one another or at tables.
Tell a story to illustrate your points. Could be a disaster or a success; stories are engaging.
Format your presentation like a story with a problem, actions to take, and solution.
Ask listeners to guess certain facts or data or leave blanks on your slides and ask them to fill in the missing words or numbers.
Set up a demonstration that audience members participate in.
Ask for volunteers to write on a flip chart, track the time, or record action items.
Give a quiz or a test, either at the beginning or end. Make it fun, not threatening.
Provide practice or application opportunities.
Engage them physically by asking them to stand, raise hands, clap, etc.
Use slides only as a backup; the audience and you come before the slides
It takes courage to do what others aren’t doing, like engaging your audience. But the payoffs are huge; a more relaxed and alert crowd, and feedback for you. Try it.
Numerous types of processes (i.e., business processes) exist in many organizations. Processes specifically involve defining and outlining a sequence of events or systematic movements that are to be followed. These processes need to be documented and identified by the Technical Writer.
• ensures that everyone understands the overall picture of what the processes entail,
• notes who are involved to accomplish an important task or to reach a goal,
• helps by providing a summary and a guideline describing the flow of a process from the beginning stage to the end.
There are many examples of processes, such as how to select a vendor, how to handle an insurance claim, how to get a product tested, or simply how to move a department into another area of a building.
• For a new product creation process, the criterion involved might include approval, development, financial, or testing processes, etc.
• For an insurance claim process the main instance might be broken down into, e.g., review, administrative, or adjustment processes, etc.
A process (business) document can include:
• Purpose, description, and scope.
• Those that are involved as well as those that are affected by the process, especially if the business process is replacing another one.
• Who will be using it.
• Where it will be used.
• How it will be used.
• Why it will be used.
Documenting business processes help to maintain communication, order, and lessen confusion and questions.
For illustrating a process, the Technical Writer has a variety of methods to use. The following techniques can be applied:
• Mapping – mapping helps by seeing how things are connected and organized.
• Wire frames – wire frames help by allowing the whole picture to b displayed.
• Flowchart – flowcharts help by seeing how one step will flow into another.
• Workflow – work flow diagrams help by allowing the audiences see a model or prototype of the process.
• Colors, graphics, pointers, etc.
There are a variety of methods that can be used to depict a, e.g., business process.
For the documentation to be successful, the Technical Writer has to seek out the knowledge management people, the SMEs – Subject Matter Experts and gather necessary information to answer the questions of ‘Who What Where When How’. Also, as always, know the audience and create what is needed to ensure understanding and the transfer of knowledge.
Note: Once a process is defined then sub-procedural steps can be gathered. Hence, the overall business process would be the top echelon and the core detailed steps would be the procedures that underly the process.
If you have previously documented various processes, I.e., business processes and can add more information please leave a comment.
It is always good to do a review as some of us might have forgotten the essentials of how to create a document full of technical information for your audience. Another acronym for technical writing could be informational writing or knowledge writing or even instructional writing. Let us start at the beginning.
• Build relationships and communicate well between all parties.
• Know your subject matter but also know what information you want to transfer. You can have a very good knowledge of a subject, but you do not have to transfer all that information, e.g., management likes point-by-point information, so do not write a lengthy report for them if it is not required – only write what is needed.
• Know your target audience and keep them in mind as you write.
• Just provide what is either requested, or what the audience needs to know. Remember to be concise and get to the point; make it simple.
• Communicate well, know your audience, and keep them in mind as you write.
• Be organized. If steps are required, be sure to include a sequenced number of tasks to follow – directions have to be in order.
• Be aware of the cause and effect of what is written. For example, ‘Press the Help key.’ Will have the effect of, e.g., a list of helpful explanations. In other words, make sure that results from what is written is clearly understood or expected.
• Be careful of your spelling of words as a misspelling can cause a huge misunderstanding. You do not want to instruct someone to ‘burn the handle’ when you meant ‘turn the handle’.
• As always, be concise and clear. Using the right words ensure that the instructions are understood, especially when being a global technical writer.
• Be diligent; perform your due diligence and validate your information – and make sure you read and reread what you have written to ensure knowledge is transferred correctly. If that is not done, a host of miscommunications can occur.
• Listen to understand what has been requested from you.
• Listen to understand and question what knowledge is being transferred to you.
• Learn from others to be knowledgeable – take down notes
• Collaborate with others in order to ensure that all parties are in agreement. This also ensures that you will be successful in what you produce.
• Translate information in a clear and easy to understand language to your target audience.
• Use different methodologies in order to maintain the interest of your readers.
• Be consistent – too many styles and fonts can be confusing for the reader and be visually tiring to the eyes. You want them to see and absorb the information; not ignore it because it is visually unappealing. Be consistent in writing and in presenting.
Finally, remember to communicate as a trainer through written material and work as an editor, illustrator, and designer to transfer your information. In addition, as always, know your timelines in order to meet your goals.
More information on being a Technical Writer can be gathered from previous posts. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. Thank you.
We don’t always realize it, but sometimes we are being told what to do visually. Take these as examples:
• A zebra crosswalk on the road – we know to walk within the zebra crossing.
• A sign of a bicycle – we know the lane is a bicycle path.
• A light switch- we know that touching it will either turn the lights on or off.
• A bump in the road- we know we have to slow down.
• A gate – we know that we cannot trespass.
And so on…
Visual designs are used quite often in marketing.Take these as examples:
• Showing pictures of items on sale entices buyers to make purchases or entices them to at least go into the store and to see what else is there.
• Showing a coin through a mail envelope or even a picture of a free item entices recipients to open the mail envelope and to see what else is inside.
• Showing lock holders on a door indicates that we need a lock to close the door.
• Showing parts of a movie can entice people to take notice and to go see or not see the movie.
We don’t always have to use words to make a point. We can use images to communicate.
• We can use graphics and charts to show the ups or downs of a trend.
• We can use images to show approvals or disapprovals.
• We can use icons to indicate what applications exist on a laptop.
• We can use signs to show inclines and curves that will be coming up while driving.
Being able to come up with an appropriate design for communicating takes a great deal of imagination. Where or how do we begin? You can:
• Just think of what you want or want to change.
• Just think of what would happen if you did something different or didn’t do anything.
• Just draw what is there or what you want or just doodle to create any image and make use of lines and arrows if you are creating some sort of process or procedure.
• Just begin slowly or simply. For example, start with a simple drawing of a dog and then have him growling to show danger or show drawings of children with an arrow pointing to a schoolhouse to indicate children crossing to school and to slow down.
You don’t have to be an artist. Drawing stick figures representing people or animals is fine. Drawing as if you’re in kindergarten is ok. Perfection doesn’t count at this point as long as you get your idea built. You can have professionals do what you need later.
Communicating through visual designs exists all around us. Simply look around the next time you take a walk.
If you have had experience developing visual designs for communicating please leave a comment. Thank you
If you are presenting, odds are you are using your laptop either to walk the listeners through content in a small group, or projected on a screen to a larger group, or online when speaking with a virtual group. It’s just how we present these days. But so many people stumble over the technology, which at best makes them look unprepared and flustered. With a little common sense you can make sure technology stays in the background, where it belongs.
Follow these suggestions to make the most of your visual presentations:
Place your presentation (or a shortcut) on your computer desktop so you can find it quickly.
Replace personal desktop graphics with a businesslike background. No one needs to see your work space, projects, or pets.
Turn off screen savers, instant messaging notices, automatic updates and sleep functions.
Double-check hyperlinks to be sure they are all working, especially if you are moving your presentation from a desktop to a laptop.
Check for compatibility with the projector ahead of time if possible.
Set up your presentation on a break or before your session begins whenever possible.
If your slides look dull, you probably have an old bulb in the projector. It might help to turn off lights in front of the screen. Don’t darken the room completely.
Check your internet connectivity if needed.
Plug in the laptop; don’t rely on the battery.
Use a wireless slide advancer whenever possible, instead of having someone else advance your slides.
Keep water or coffee away from your laptop.
Always have a backup plan; your presentation on Flash Drive, intranet, or send a copy to a colleague who will be present. A hard copy will save you if all else fails.
Compress pictures and limit the file size when on the road so that it can fit on a flash drive.
After your presentation, be sure to pack all your cords and cables, and flash drive if you are using it.