Along with a good software documentation tool, you will need some skills. And these are the requirements for a qualifying person.
What you need first is the base knowledge of your subject. It can be software and hardware in any of its forms. It can be medicine and pharmacy. It can be management and law. Whatever industry where people need instructions requires technical writers that understand at least its basics.
At the same time, you need to constantly learn. Your task is effectively to explain certain features of the product to the customers that don’t understand it so that they could understand after reading the documentation. If you have embraced this yourself, the job is half done. So, first you learn, then you understand, and in the end, you share this understanding in documentation.
Sometimes (that’s inevitable), you may need to contact the developers themselves or other experts if you can’t make something on your own. Still, you need to be competent enough to ask them the right questions. Then it’s the writer’s work to repack the obtained information.
Being a Writer
Language is your primary instrument. Use it to make comprehensible texts that cover the subject as fully as possible. It means a special sort of empathy or telepathy. Look at the product through someone else’s eyes to see what can be unclear, even if, for you, instructions aren’t needed at all. Then explain everything that may require a step-by-step guide.
In some respects, being a writer and being a technical writer are the opposites. For example, your tone should be as neutral as can be, avoiding personal attitude or humor (unless that’s the developer’s concept). While in a novel, you can sweat your thesaurus to drop more synonyms, in technical documentation, you need to keep to a certain vocabulary to avoid confusion. Use the same terms for the same objects (buttons, arrows, other interface elements, menu elements, and so on), so inexperienced users don’t get confused.
There are many other skills, both hard and soft, that a copywriter will need. Communicating is probably the primary one. Discuss the tasks you receive, the complications, the issues you run into, the questions that arise with your managers or colleagues. Test your copy with product testers or with your team members.
Another important skill is mastering various tools. You may need a screenshot maker, a cloud document platform (like Google Docs), a video designing app, a graphic editor – at least an entry level one, and so on. This also requires an aptness to learn.
So, What’s a Technical Writer?
In short, a good technical writer is a professional learner and a professional instructor at the same time. Learn stuff, then explain stuff to others. The main requirement, though, is to be able to constantly process new material and make comprehensible instructions out of it. So among other benefits, it will keep your cognitive abilities strong and sharp.
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