Essential Data Corporation's and skills for a tech writer

The 10 Top Skills That Every Tech Writer Needs

If you’re reading this article then you likely find yourself reading for three reasons. Reason one, you are looking to hire a tech writer and want to know more about what skills they bring to the table. Reason two, you are looking to start a career as a technical writer, and you want to know a little more about the skills needed. Reason three, you are simply here because you’re curious and would like to learn more about tech writers. If so, kudos to you for the desire to learn more.

Below are a list of skills we – here at Essential Data Corporation – believe are required to make up an exceptional tech writer. 

What Kind Of Education Does A Tech Writer Need?

Pathways that can help in starting a career in tech writing / technical writing

First I would like to begin by addressing the following question 

Does a tech writer need a specific type of educational background and/or degree?

Technically, No, however there preferred career paths that will help an individual to become a full fledged technical writer. Some of the qualifications that employers begin to look for when hiring technical writers stem from the pathways below.

  • Journalism
  • Communications
  • English
  • Engineering
  • Computer Science

I do want to point out that there are some schools that offer degrees in technical writing, but it is a program that is not widely available. Some deeper research into schools may be needed to find this program.

Good Tech Writing Practices

It is nothing short to say that tech writers need to have above average writing skills. Tech writers need to include a variety of the following

  • transition words 
  • More active voice and less passive voice 
  • Different sentence structure
  • Sentence length
  • Paragraph length
  • Subheading distribution
  • Using proper punctuation when appropriate.
  • Correct spelling

More importantly, tech writers need to consider word choice when addressing the audience. It would not make sense for tech writers to use complex words when their job is to break down complex subjects. 

Moreover, having superb writing skills can even extend as far as your creativity, not just context structure. The best way to work on your creative writing would be to read, and attend creative writing workshops/seminars.

Tech Writers Need To Be Knowledgable In Science & Technology

Tech writers usually have  knowledge in various industries such as engineering, medical, computer science, and etc. However, this does not mean tech writers are subject matter experts (SME). They generally need to have a foot in each industry to be a successful tech writer. The deeper a tech writer can dive into a subject, means the technical document will be that  more successful. 

The best way to keep up with your industry trends are to read the news, blog posts, listen to podcasts, stay tuned in to major professional news networks like Forbes and the wall street journal. The key is to look at this time as growth rather than something you have to do. You need to build strong habits, live and breathe the professional industry you want to break into.

The Ability To Work With Technical Writing Tools

As technology progresses, there have been breaking developments in softwares for writing documentation. More importantly, these developments have facilitated team work to complete projects. Some examples of softwares that tech writers use are Mac Pages, Microsoft Word, Grammarly, and etc.; these softwares also support several formats like PDF and CHM. 

From personal experience, working with a Google Document facilitates creating any form of documentation. I have a long history of working in teams with people in different timezones. Google word document lets you see and update in current time as work is completed. It tells you who made changes and leaves comments for other team mates. This is way easier than passing around multiple copies of the same document through email, and losing track of the newest version.

A tech writer should always stay up to date with the latest tools for technical writing. It’s always a good idea to try out different software tools for documentation. If you have to work with a team, it likely means you have to work with subject matter experts (SME); to stay organized try out Monday.com. You can also use ClickHelp as a reference for other tools in documentation.

Tech Writers Use A Research and Exploration Process 

The research process for a tech writer

A tech writer’s research and exploration skill should be top tier especially when they are outsourced from a company. The reason it is especially important when a tech writer is outsourced is because the company’s product/service can basically be unknown to the writer. 

Something very important to note is that a tech writer’s job consists of 80% research and 20% writing. In other words if the information is incorrect then the document will be irrelevant. For this reason it is important double check information – triple check if necessary.

I personally adopt seven steps when researching, these may help you as well.

  1. Identify/Develop the topic in question.
  2. Do a preliminary search for information / Find background information.
  3. Locate material / Use catalogs to find books and media. 
  4. Evaluate sources / Use databases to find journal articles.
  5. Make notes / Evaluate findings.
  6. Create an outline 
  7. Cite your sources. 

Proofreading Skills

Tech writers need to proofread their work several times. It can be tiring to the eye and often easy to miss errors after reading them countless times. It would be a great idea to have a colleague read over your work as well, but tech writers often find themselves working alone at times. 

If this happens to be your situation then it’s a good practice to take breaks in intervals, otherwise you could end up burning out. There are software tools that can facilitate a tech writer’s job with grammar and sentence structure such as grammarly and wordtune. However, keep in mind these programs cannot help you with keeping the context of the document coherent and fluent, so a tech writer still needs to put in a lot of work.

Tech Writers Need To Be Systematic

A tech writer being systematic overlaps into the aspect of proofreading to make sure the document is coherent and fluent. Moreover, This deserves its own section because without systematic organization, the document will not achieve its goal – translating complex concepts into digestible bites of information. There are two bad sides to unstructured documentation.

First, unstructured content will give the reader an unpleasant experience. The whole purpose is to give easy accessible information for the user.

Secondly, the tech writer might suffer themselves. A lack of organization will cause chaos in the writer’s head when trying to gather their thoughts.  

Tech Writers Rely On Team work / Communication

Tech writers may at times write alone, but they often have to communicate a lot with technical documentation teams and other departments. Documentation writers often serve as a communication highway to other departments because the document can only be clear and concise when the author truly understands the concepts applied. Collaborating and communicating with others is what helps in finalizing the final form of documentation for a product/service. Not to mention that employers are 73.4% more likely to hire people with great communication skills.

Tech Writers Need To Be Good At Single Sourcing 

A good technique to adopt in streamlining work for a tech writer is called single sourcing. In simple terms, single sourcing allows a tech writer to reuse the same sources multiple times on different documentation projects. 

Single sourcing can be very useful during both the research and writing phase. 

Scenario one: the research phase – A tech writer can keep a database of collected information to repurpose when the situation should arise. 

Scenario two: the writing phase – A tech writer can create two documents from one by perhaps separating information met for beginners to professionals. 

Sociology

For this section you may be wondering, “how in the world would sociology be a useful skill for a tech writer?”. However, I assure you that knowing the basics of sociology is essential for a tech writer.

A good tech writer will always put themselves in the shoes of the end-user to know exactly how to address them. It is important for the tech writer to understand the reader and figure out a way to appropriately deliver information.

For instance, delivering information to an elementary teacher may differ in the way you deliver information to an IT specialist. Each product/service has its base users, and once the target audience has been identified, the writing can begin.

Critical Thinking 

Critical thinking has lots of applications in various fields but it’s valuable to tech writers through experience and judgment calls. A tech writer has to make judgment calls when considering what information to omit or include that maintains the document’s relevance. The writer will always have to decide the best way to deliver and format information. Lastly, a tech writer makes these judgment calls through experience; with time a writer will realize what works and what does not for the audience.

Web Design Basics

By no means is this a necessary skill, but it definitely helps a lot as documentation can occur online. Knowing some coding (HTML and CSS) can help design online documentation. 

HTML allows you to add and create and format text; in other words the actual content. CSS allows you to design and style the documentation – i.e. color and animations. 

There are a variety of software tools that help design documentation such as elementor and square space. Some of these software tools allow you to design and format documentation without knowing a lick of code. However, you do get more options and possibilities if you know how to code. 

Conclusion

A tech writer does not necessarily need to have all these skills mastered under their tool belt. The purpose of this article is to help you start your checklist, whether it’s looking to hire or start a career in technical writing. 

Essential Data Corporation houses some of the most talented and diverse tech writers. Through our many years of experience, this is a list of skills we believe to serve as a basis to making respectable tech writers. Of course this is an open ended discussion with several different opinions on great practices and skills, but through our continued years of successfully serving our clients we have found these skills to be extremely useful. 

You can also read more about some of the types of documentation tech writers most commonly create – Quick Reference Guides, Audit Documentation, Software Documentation, and etc.

Either way, best of luck to you with your technical writing! 

 

How Essential Data Corporation can help you 

Whether you need a single software technical writer for a brief project, or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients’ work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or sales@edc.us 

 

Written by Pablo Mota

 

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