The last decade has witnessed a paradigm shift in the way technical writers are dealt with in the software industry. There is a clear recognition of the fact that writers should play an integral role in projects.
It’s no secret that a well-documented project is likely to be better received by the target audience. End users appreciate the fact that a product comes with easy-to-read documentation that covers topics such as FAQs, How-tos and Trouble-shooting solutions.
Unfortunately, companies have different yardsticks while working with technical writers. While some companies involve writers from a project’s beginning stages, others don’t include them till the project is almost over. This impacts a technical writer’s ability to comprehend a product’s capabilities. He will have to spend a significant amount of time interacting with each member of the development team to know the finer details of the product.
Stepping into a technical writer’s shoes
A technical writer’s job isn’t easy. He is expected to produce quality technical content for a product without having developed it himself. It’s a difficult task because the writer needs to have an excellent understanding of the following:
- The product, its functioning and the intended target audience
- The technical jargon that is appropriate and acceptable for the project
- The roles played by each member in the development team to develop the product (so that queries during documentation can be swiftly addressed)
Becoming the perfect technical writer
It’s difficult to come across a person who has mastered the intricacies of technical writing in its entirety. This is because there are a lot of skills associated with becoming the perfect technical writer – and it takes a couple of years for writers to master them all!
In most scenarios, technical writing takes the reader on an easy-to-follow journey that explains a product’s functionality. User guides, manuals and other educational courses fall in this category. A good percentage of technical writing also caters to journals, case studies and whitepapers that talk about innovation in technology.
This article will help you become a technical writer who is capable of taking on all assignments. Read through these tips to gain an expert understanding of how writers should adopt to the technical domain.
- Gain perfect realization of how the technical writing industry works
There have been rapid advancements in the technology world over the last couple of decades. This resulted in a hike in maturity levels of the target audience (consumers of technology). They have greater exposure and understanding of technology and its benefits.
This, in turn, has resulted in an evolution in the technical writing industry as well. Technical writing is more complex than it was before because sophisticated readers need content that is sharp and descriptive.
A technical writer should realize that there are no shortcuts to success in the industry. Hard work must be put in to create content that follows guidelines created by the company.
- Recognize the fact that you need a thorough understanding of the subject
A technical writer will not survive without having a thorough understanding of the subject he has to write on.
I know a writer who was asked to write about new software he had no clue about. The deadline was short and he struggled to come up with a user guide that captures the software’s potential completely. As a writer, you have the rights to request for sufficient time to understand a product in its entirety.
At times, you will have to spend a lot of effort convincing an unsympathetic manager about the importance of gaining more time to complete documentation. This will help you do complete justice to the project.
- Adopt a courteous attitude that helps to quickly bond with others
A technical writer has to work with the development and testing teams to understand and document complicated concepts in a user-friendly manner. The writer has to maintain cordial relationships with everybody in order to ensure he gets information in a speedy and reliable way.
Arrogant technical writers often complain that they don’t receive thorough information from the development team. A quick self-introspection will help them realize there are shortcomings in the way they interact with the development team.
- Be inquisitive and willing to learn
An inquisitive nature will help a technical writer immensely. It will give him the opportunity to learn more about technology, especially the project he is focusing on currently.
Combine this inquisitiveness with a positive and outgoing demeanor to get the best attitude for a technical writer.
- Be aware of the product so that you can ask the right questions
It’s important that technical writers ask the right questions to prepare the perfect content. The capability to ask the right questions can only be achieved by closely examining the product. The process to ask the right questions is pretty straightforward:
Step 1: Spend a couple of days understanding the product you have to write about.
Step 2: Jot down pain points that prevent you from gaining a thorough understanding of the product.
Step 3: Convert these pain points into questions that can provide you with definite answers.
Step 4: Seek team members who can clear your doubts.
- Don’t overestimate/underestimate target readers
Some writers think their target audience comprises intellectuals with a thorough understanding of the product. Technical content written from this perspective will turn out to be high on technicality, boring to read and difficult to comprehend.
Another group of writers think their target audience comprises people with zero knowledge of technology. Technical content written from this perspective will turn out to be childish.
Adopt a professional approach to ensure your content appears sophisticated and user-friendly.
- Break up content into relevant tasks
I have come across a lot of technical literature that runs into hundreds of pages. Reading through such documents is a herculean effort. These documents are not helpful because readers take a lot of time to find relevant topics. It’s a waste of effort for the writer because his content will eventually find no takers.
This is why it is important that all content should be logically divided into achievable tasks that can be pursued individually by readers. This is a convenient approach that will be appreciated by the reader.
- Use simple and easy-to-understand English
Resist the urge to use fancy words in technical content. Your readers will be spread across a wide demography – they may not understand certain local phrases aimed at a limited audience.
Your article should avoid the following:
- First person account: Unless the writing is informal in nature, a first person account should be avoided.
- Unnecessary capitalization: Only proper nouns or other important terminologies should have the first letter capitalized. Unnecessary capitalization may bring focus on the wrong words.
- Contraction: Avoid words such as “that’s” and “let’s”.
- Ambiguity: Avoid phrases such as “the installation will take a little longer”. Be specific and use phrases such as “the installation will be completed in 4 minutes”.
- Make your content
Technical content tends to look very boring and ordinary without proper sections. A descriptive index is a must – it should guide the reader to relevant sections. This saves time for the reader, helping him access information quicker.
Sub-headings should be provided to help readers understand content what the content is about without having to go through the whole text.
- Use visuals to break the monotony
Visuals such as diagrams, flowcharts or screenshots should accompany your content. It helps readers understand the content better while adding credibility to what you are trying to explain.
Use visuals at strategic locations in the content. The flow of content should look attractive and pleasing to the eye.
- Test and verify the content yourself
Test the content you have prepared, especially if it involves steps to perform specific tasks. Make changes wherever required as per your tests. The content you prepare should be foolproof and error-free.
This way, you can restrict the errors pointed out by the QA team to a minimum. It improves your reliability and helps to establish your writing credentials.
- Exchange notes with other technical writers
Technical writing is evolving with every passing day. It’s important that you share ideas on the latest writing trends with other writers, especially those who work for different organizations. This will help you grow as a writer while establish connections with peers in the industry.
I hope you found these writing tips on how to become a technical writer par excellence useful. Your main goal should be to create credible and detailed content that helps readers understand a product better. The tips featured here will take you forward in that direction.
Do you have any queries regarding the content in this article? Or maybe you have some words to share from your own experience? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. I look forward to reading and replying to your comments!
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