The technical writing role is not restricted to the documentation of the product or service. It, undoubtedly, is the primary responsibility of a technical writer. But, to become a successful and productive technical writer, you are expected to be more than a set of skills mentioned in the job description. In this session of Technical Writing Project Lifecycle, Amit Siddhartha, CEO of Metapercept Technology Services, enlightens the technical writers about the initiatives a technical writer needs to take for delivering responsibilities effectively.
It often happens that even after there is a match between the job description and skillset, the candidate is rejected. Right from the interview to the final round, the employer screens candidates based on their work culture, organizational goals, the attitude of the candidate, and so on. Therefore, having the skillset is not always enough.
Amit has worked as a technical writer and also hired a team for his company. His experience, from being on both sides of the scene, enables him to provide a fair picture of hiring and retaining technical writers. Therefore, he has discussed the attributes that are not mentioned in the job description but are required to grow as a technical writer.
Understand your organization to add value to it
Organizations function to make profits. Their ideas and goals revolve around investments in sales, marketing, and development. It is so because these teams reach out directly to the customers and bring in business. Therefore, you are expected to deliver responsibilities in a way that supports the efforts of these teams. You are expected to deliver documents that increase the returns on investments for the organization by offering optimum user experience to readers.
Furthermore, organizations are constantly focused on research and development. The continuous advancements in technologies necessitate the allocation of resources to research. It is to ensure that the product evolves with changing trends in the industry. So, you need to be flexible and continuously work on knowledge development as a technical writer to be a good fit for the organization.
Set expectations based on what employers seek from technical writers
Educational qualification is one of the first filters used for screening candidates. This criterion changes from organization to organization. Some organizations prefer technical background, while some may prefer a certification in technical writing, and so on. This reflects their requirement for a well-read professional.
As mentioned above, your qualities are expected to meet demands that are beyond the scope of the job description. These demands, at the same time, fall under the scope of technical writing roles and responsibilities. To illustrate, you should be willing to take initiative and ownership when required. It is a common practice to deliver assigned responsibilities without taking extra accountability. If you go by books, there is nothing wrong with not taking up extra responsibilities. However, organizations need motivated individuals with a high sense of belongingness to take the work forward.
Being a technical writer, you will be asked questions to understand your knowledge about user behavior. For effective documentation, you need to walk in the user’s shoes. Therefore, your understanding of the third-party users is an essential factor in determining the value you will bring to the organization. In addition, you will become a valuable resource to an organization only if you have thorough domain knowledge. Learning abbreviations and using jargon to create familiarity is essential but not enough. You should be familiar with the processes and concepts in depth. Further, if you can offer inputs to developers for knowledge base development, you will gain an edge in the organization as a valued asset.
Align your skills with organizational goals
Very often you will be needed to deliver work that is outside the scope of your job profile. Hence, beyond your profile, you need to have skills that are explained under cognitive and non-cognitive below:
These skills appeal to the emotional side of the document. It is focused on engaging the user and enabling him to take desired actions.
Motivating: You should use your understanding of users to implement information design in an easy-to-use manner.
Effort: Assess the level of effort your user is required to put into the document. Ensure that he undergoes a smooth journey while going through the document and performing the actions mentioned in it.
Communication: Use simple language for documentation. You should keep the sentences short and precise to attain desired results.
Self-efficacy: The content should have clarity. It should flow logically, enabling the reader to grasp information easily.
These skills focus on creating a good user experience for the readers.
Memory building: The document should be presented in a way that helps the readers to retain the information. It should be useful even after the reading is completed.
Motor skills: The flow of the information should be logical. If the content is incoherent, the user experience will decline drastically. To illustrate, if you write a user guide for driving a car, the step to get inside the car should precede starting the engine. Therefore, there should be a logical approach applied to the document structure.
Visual and spatial processing: The content should be backed by visuals and story references whenever possible. It increases the user experience of the document. This is highly applicable when writing ‘how to’ guides.
Executive functions: The document should clearly mention the warnings, labels, etc. Further, it should be goal-oriented, helping readers to perform tasks, with commands and instructions.
Set matrices and goals
Technical writers should have smart goals to evaluate their task performances. It also helps in delivering work on time by reviewing every phase against timelines. For this purpose, their agenda should be divided into matrices and goals, which are explained below:
The below-mentioned table will help you in breaking down the project into a list of action items. These action items are then further broken down into the conceptual content, technical content, and references to be documented or looked into for support. The list of action items for any technical documentation project generally includes requirement analysis, identification of information gaps and resources, identification of documentation requirements, tracking of progress, connecting with the SMEs, and tracking the team’s progress to align your tasks accordingly.
|Action Items||Conceptual Content||Technical Content||References|
|Identify the requirements||Introduction, Overview, Architecture||Steps, Scenarios||Specifications, Datapoints|
|Identify the available and missing information||Dependencies, Third-party information||Workarounds, Tips||hrefs, Cross-references|
|Identify the document categories||Doc types, Use cases||Technical Manual, How To||Release Notes, Knowledge Center|
|Track your progress||JIRA||GitHub, BitBucket||NA|
|Get aligned with the right SME||Architects, Product Managers||Developers||NA|
|Track the team’s progress||Project Charters||SCRUM||NA|
To illustrate, requirement analysis should focus on the conceptual content required, which includes an introduction, overview, and structure. Further, the concepts should be backed by explanations in the form of steps and scenarios. In this phase of documentation, information such as specification details and data points should be added as references. Likewise, each action item is explained in the table above.
While setting matrices is a crucial part of the documentation project, aligning goals with these matrices is the smart approach to complete your documentation project efficiently. Some of the important steps for setting and reaching your documentation goals are:
- Prepare a skeletal view of the document along with a detailed table of contents.
- Connect with testers to get information on test use cases. It helps in adding valuable resources.
- Gain in-depth domain knowledge. As discussed above, knowing abbreviations and jargon isn’t enough. As a technical writer, you should possess conceptual knowledge about processes.
- Estimate your work and prepare timelines accordingly for each document. Learn about the number of screens users will be using, the number of endpoints for APIs, etc.
- Understand the map architecture of the product. If you create a mental map for your content, it will be easier to reach goals.
To be an effective technical writer, you need to possess attributes that do not form a part of your job profile but have a direct impact on efficiency. These things are not talked about by recruiters but are some of the crucial parameters for hiring. For this purpose, you need to understand your organization. Further, you need to inculcate traits that can help you deliver responsibilities more efficiently. You should be willing to learn more about the product as well as the domain. Lastly, build a skill set that is a combination of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills. By doing so, coupled with smart goals and matrices, you can flourish as an effective technical writer.
Author: Ruchi Rai, Technical Writer, Metapercept Technology Services LLP