Skills Needed to be an Effective Technical Writer

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Ever since we announced our technical writing course, several aspiring technical writers have written to us asking for the skills essential to be an effective technical writer.

Before we discuss the skills, let us look at what a technical writer’s job is all about.

A technical writer is essentially a person who conveys relevant information about a solution to the intended audience in a manner that is easy-to-understand and usable.

Here are some skills that you need to be an effective technical writer.

  1. One of the most easily discernible skills for technical writers to have is the ability and willingness to understand the solution. Understanding the solution will help you explain it clearly to the audience.The willingness part of this is a state of mind issue. If you are a person who likes exploring new things and learning how they work, then you have conquered the willingness part. As for the ability, there are two aspects to this:
    1. If you are documenting the technology itself—for example, the metabolism of a particular drug in the human body or the technical architecture of a software application—you need to understand intricacies of the technology. In such cases, having a formal qualification in the relevant technical field helps.
    2. If you are explaining how to use the technology solution to users—for example, the side effects of a drug or how to use a banking application— you need to understand the domain and how users work in this domain.
  2. Having understood the solution, you must be able to convey it to the intended audience such that they can understand it easily and use it effectively. This means you need to think about how you will convey the information and this brings us to the next skill, information design. Given that the Internet and mobile technologies have opened up new avenues for communication, you should develop the skill for leveraging these avenues to get across to your users.
  3. The written word accounts for a lion’s share of all technical communication. Even when you use online media, you still have to script the content. As a result, one of the most critical skills you can develop is writing clearly, concisely, and precisely.
  4. You must be proficient in the tools of the trade. Being adept at the tools you are using will help you be efficient in your work as a technical writer. One skill you should develop is the ability to learn new tools and technologies.
  5. No man is an island said John Donne. This is particularly true of technical writers. 🙂 As a technical writer, you have to talk to various stakeholders such as Subject Matter Experts, Project Managers, and Reviewers. As a result, one of the most essential skills is effective interpersonal communication.

These are just some of the skills you need to be an effective technical writer.

Times, They are A-Changin’ sang Bob Dylan about the social changes in the US in the 1960s.

Times, They are A-Changin’ for our profession too. We should look at ourselves as technical communicators rather than as technical writers. This gives us a larger canvas to work with and indeed, be more effective at reaching out to the user.

It also means developing new skills. That is the subject for another blog post!

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