Technical Writing is
By Mimi Hill
|Not What You Wanted to Read
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Technical Writing is Not Boring Work
In my job, I am the first person who takes the notes from the programs my Developers have created and puts them into a format that helps people use our software.
Definition of Technical Writing
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's "Occupational Outlook Handbook", here is the definition of a Technical Writer:
This is definitely easier said then done but don't worry, you don't have to know how to do everything all at once. Really.
People Who Like People...
Being a Technical Writer is about being a people person as much is it is about knowing how to write and describe concepts clearly. If you don't like talking to people and really listening carefully, you might want to consider being a Copy Editor instead.
How to be a "people person" when approaching developers
It is partially your job to let the Developers know that you think a concept requires further explanation. Remember, they are very "product-centric" and may assume too much about their audiences.
That said, get used to chopping out large pieces of work you have worked hard on. It is all part of the process of producing the best documentation possible.
How to ask the right questions
Break the Concepts Down
Remember, your goal is to write clear documentation. Nobody understands everything the first time they hear it. The trick is learning how to break information down into small enough concepts so that you finally understand even the complicated instructions. I promise you that once the concepts are broken down far enough, you will be able to ask questions that lead to clarity.
Do you Need to Include a Graphic?
Figure out whether or not the concept was complicated enough to require a graphical explanation.
Find the balance between your product-centric Developer and your audience. This will take you some time to develop but it helps to read instructions for things around your house. Sometimes the instructions are too simple and sometimes they are too hard. Technical Writing is no different then those product descriptions.
In some Technical Writing positions you just have to explain how GUI software features work. For example: From File select Save. Those are the easy jobs but that isn't really content driven writing. Using the same example, here is how a content driven explanation might look: Once you've worked for a few minutes, in order to ensure that your work is not lost, From File select Save. Sometimes the content may be entirely theoretical (see the Introduction chapters in the books you have purchased).
Five Worries Dispelled
5 Things I was worried about when I considered becoming a Technical Writer in the High Tech Industry:
I know how scary it is to change careers. Even the thought of trying to put a perfect resume together might put you right over edge. I know that some of you may be somewhat unhappy in your current jobs but you may be afraid to switch because you are worried about losing out on benefits, not being good enough, competing in something new or wondering if you write well enough. Don't let anyone frighten you, like any other Career the "haves" sometimes want the "have nots" to think they are way ahead in the game. There is always space for one more in our field.
If you have read this far, and this still looks like work that suits you, I'm sure that you too can be a Technical Writer. Please let me know if this document helped you in any way.
Thanks for allowing me to share my opinions.