10 tips for tech writers

Tech-writing is a tricky business. It is not a very high profile industry, so there is not much support around. If you follow these 10 quick tips, you’ll be well on your way to a satisfying tech-writing career.

1) Follow a sensible career path …

  • Step 1: Start in a team
  • Step 2: Stay just enough enough
  • Step 3: Conduct yourself
  • Step 4: Lead a team
  • Step 5: Go Contracting (Depends on the Market)

2) Knowledge is your life blood – study the policy of your company. Know who knows why. Find someone who consistently gives you timely, reliable, technically accurate answers and have their name tattooed on your shoulder! Each company has at least one. And they may not be in the roles of the project manager / product manager / customer / programmer. In general, these are the people who have used the product in the real world and deal with customers from real world.

3) Communicate with, not by. Tech writers do not have enough power to get away with communicating.

4) Track stuff (take spreadsheet printout and write it on the board).

5) Develop good knowledge of product and field – the more you can find for yourself, the better you will be (and the more respect you will get from the techies).

6) Find out who your users are, what they are trying to do, what they are having trouble with and how they want to be helped. Then provide this assistance. Help the user to do what he is trying to do. Do not just tell them what the product can do … a help system is useful only if it adjusts the needs of users.

7) Treat everyone as a customer. Then manage their expectations and your commitments. Always ensure that they know what you are doing. Tell them when you will be finished. And pull all stops to meet your deadline.

8) Provide a surrogate user testing mechanism for the development team – providing usability feedback.

9) Work as hard as required to complete the document of good quality on time and to budget – so you will get the satisfaction of work you need.

10) Have fun with it.

Do not be judged and cynical by the high-tech, harsh, uncomfortable IT world. Use your smarts and use the provided measures. Most importantly of all, make job satisfaction your number 1 goal. This is the best way to stay happy and forward.

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