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Eight things technical writers are very good at

Sue Woolley
by Sue Woolley

Technical writers don’t just write. We are highly accomplished professionals who are multi-skilled. In order to write effectively, technical writers must have research, analysis and interviewing skills to gather the required information together, expert writing skills, strong design and layout skills, editing expertise and a knowledge of output formats and publishing tools.

Listed below are eight skills that technical writers must have to be effective.

Writing

It goes without saying that technical writers are skilled writers. They write:

  • in plain English
  • for the audience
  • in the required style
  • clearly, accurately and concisely
  • with regard to accurate spelling, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary
  • in a manner that is suitable for a range of different output formats (for example, printed, web, help content, smartphone, tablet and so on)
  • much faster and more accurately than someone who does not write for a living.

Research and analysis

In order to write and maintain excellent technical documentation, technical writers must have advanced research and analysis skills. This includes:

  • business analysis
  • process analysis
  • audience and needs analysis
  • requirements analysis
  • researching information from a variety of sources.

Interviewing

Being able to interview subject matter experts and extract the required information from them in a timely manner is a key technical writer skill.

Expert tool knowledge

Authoring, graphic development, content development and publishing tools. For example:

  • Microsoft Word. Most technical writers have advanced in skills in MS Word, including developing and using templates, advanced formatting and layout options, writing and using macros.
  • Other Office products such as Powerpoint, Visio and Excel.
  • Other specialised authoring and single-sourcing tools such as Author-it, RoboHelp, FrameMaker and Flare.
  • Image capture and manipulation tools such as Hypersnap and Snagit.

Video development tools, for example:

  • Powerpoint
  • Camtasia
  • Captivate
  • Articulate, Storyline.

Management and organisation skills

For example:

  • scoping
  • project management
  • task management
  • management of the entire documentation development and review process.

Design, structure and layout of information

While excellent writing is the key to the reader’s understanding of the content, the way information is laid out and presented is also a key part of the equation. Technical writers must be capable of good:

  • information design
  • visual design
  • graphic design.

Editing and quality control

In order to produce content that is accurate and consistent, technical writers must be skilled at:

  • structural editing
  • copy editing
  • proofreading
  • creating and using style guides
  • documentation standards.

Knowledge of output and publishing

For example:

  • online publishing
  • print publishing
  • social media
  • wikis
  • blogs.

Did you know that technical writers could do all these things? Most people don’t, they think that all we do is write!

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