The technical writer is the communication industry’s version of a Swiss-army knife. For any given project a technical writer is required to draw upon skills covering writing, graphic design, programming, and project management.
And, since business customers always want to present the most modern documentation, these skills need to be constantly updated. Ideally, as a technical writer you should be ahead of the curve. Achieving this goal means effectively managing and updating your “creative bank” of skills.
What is a creative bank?
From a technical writing perspective, a creative bank is a list of skills that you can draw upon at any time to create outstanding documentation. My creative bank includes skills in areas such as:
- writing, editing and proofreading
- single-source publishing software
- graphic design software
- project management
- problem solving
- critical thinking
- time management.
As you grow your career your creative bank becomes an essential reference that you can draw upon to create outstanding documentation for any customer. The following tips will help you get the best results as you look to sustain and grow your creative bank.
Maintain a keen eye for style and presentation
The first step to effectively utilising your creative bank is to be able to identify areas where the style or presentation could be improved. Possible areas for improvement in a manual include:
The default settings can be quite dull. Look to include a graphic such as the company logo. This will make the documentation look more modern and feel more complete.
Only using text to convey information can hinder comprehension for some topics. Look to shorten paragraphs and use graphic design programs such as Photoshop to include diagrams and images.
Maintain your skills (wherever you are)
Technical writing is a fantastic profession because you are constantly gaining new skills in order to meet the needs of your clients. However, your learning should not stop when you go home. Here are just a few ways you can continue your education at home:
Sign up for an online course website
Completing online courses is an excellent way to improve your knowledge in your spare time. You can find excellent in-depth tutorials for programming, graphic design and many other disciplines on websites such as lynda.com. Also, YouTube is a fantastic resource for short tips and tricks videos.
Blog and read other blogs
Blogs are an excellent way for presenting and acquiring knowledge. Create your own blog, resolve to update it regularly, and then dive into the community and follow other blogs. As you present your ideas you will receive ongoing validation and feedback that will sharpen your skills and open up new possibilities.
Reinforce your existing knowledge
Books like The Elements of Style by Strunk and White never, pardon the pun, go out of style. Reviewing seminal books and online courses will reinforce your existing knowledge and, perhaps, identify areas that need to be improved.
Put it into practice
Skills that are not put into practice will deteriorate over time. Ensure that you are employing the skills you have learned on a regular basis. Maintaining writing skills is fairly easy, since this will be the bulk of your work. However, skills like manipulating images with PhotoShop and creating logos with Illustrator come up less frequently.
Never give up
Most importantly, realise that every new skill is difficult when you first start learning. Accept that you will be beating your head against a wall for a while before everything clicks.