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What are the top 3 traits or skills every technical writer must have to excel?

Can you suggest any tips or insights to develop your technical writer expertise?

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Art Kautz in Denver, Colorado

97 months ago

Interesting question. For me it's:
1. You have to have an avid interest in all aspects of technical writing: the formatting, the attention to detail, knowing your audience, and English (or whatever language in which you are writing).
2. An ability to interview subject matter experts. Not just sending them an e-mail message asking for facts and figures, but going out and meeting them face to face and getting the information and finding out what they do.
3. An ability to get things done on time. The deadlines baby, the deadlines! In this racket, deadlines are everything. If you can't meet them without all sorts of all-nighters and other ass busting, you are in the wrong game and will soon learn to hate it. To do it, you have to be able to work under some stress.

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Wanderer in Saint Louis, Missouri

97 months ago

Art,
Your 1 & 3 answers are great and most technical people would easily see them, but, I'll admit I was a little surprised to see your #2. I don't typically think of Technical Writers as being good at face to face interactions. I suppose it could be a really beneficial skill, though, couldn't it?

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PVDS in Herenthout, Belgium

97 months ago

Wanderer said: I don't typically think of Technical Writers as being good at face to face interactions. I suppose it could be a really beneficial skill, though, couldn't it?

Sorry to barge in... But I agree with Art.

At least, it was this skill that allowed me to sell my rates which were typically around 30% higher than average... It is an absolute advantage in the more technical areas. I have once written a book on radar testing equipment for a major player in European market, and interfacing with their engineering department was the most challenging, yet rewarding, part of that job.

I'd say that answers 1 and 3 are what every technical writer ought to have, and answer 2 is a nice bonus which will have a substantial impact on rates.

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Susan

96 months ago

Being a team player is the most important. Attitude, attitude, attitude! Let me say it again.... ATTITUDE! Attitude makes up for inexperience. Technical skills can be learned, but attitude is ingrained.

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Regina in Saint Louis, Missouri

96 months ago

I agree with all of the above,
but the top requirement should be good writing skills!!!

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Salome in Saint Paul, Minnesota

91 months ago

I agree with Art. The ability to interview your subject matter experts and to get along with them is essential.

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Ed Hanson in Denver, Colorado

86 months ago

Wanderer in Saint Louis, Missouri said: Art,
Your 1 & 3 answers are great and most technical people would easily see them, but, I'll admit I was a little surprised to see your #2. I don't typically think of Technical Writers as being good at face to face interactions. I suppose it could be a really beneficial skill, though, couldn't it?

Actually, it is often quite critical. Your ability to manage interviews extends from the initial job interview to researching the needs of the project and the user. Good skills in this case get you the job and help you produce the best documentation possible.

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Ed Hanson in Denver, Colorado

86 months ago

I would add that an ability to write is critical. It's not just having the correct grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation. To be an effective writer, you must be able to choose the right words and arrange them so that your writing is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
The documents you produce must also be clear, concise, and easy to understand. A good understanding of the principles of information mapping helps with this.

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BEC in Charles Town, West Virginia

83 months ago

Art is right on all three counts if you want to be a well rounded writer. However, Ed hits the bullseye with the primary skill. I have worked with Tech Writers who considered themselves to be "very good" . . . and have had to redo their work!

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twirler in Voorhees, New Jersey

81 months ago

Traits:
Inquisitive
Humble
Life-long learner

Skills:
Writing
Word processing
Graphics

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Techone in Portland, Oregon

72 months ago

Ed Hanson nailed it on the head. #2 is Deadlines.

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Mlyn in White Hall, Arkansas

65 months ago

1. analysis
2. writing/editing
3. user-centered design

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missaugustina in Seattle, Washington

65 months ago

1. Passion for technology
2. Ability to shift perspective
3. Writing skill that is focused more on clarity and consistency than on lessons learned in English class

The one trait often overlooked, even by technical writers, is a passion for technology. If you are interested in Software-oriented technical writing, being interested in technology and enjoying learning about technology is a trait that will set you apart. Many technical writers are "writers" first and "technical" second. Make the "technical" just as important as the "writer"! Learn how to create web pages, learn how to program, install Linux, or tinker with other technical projects.

If you're in school, take an Anthropology class. The ability to see the world from different perspectives is a vital trait to a successful technical writer. Think about who is going to use your documentation and what specifically they are going to use it for. Get as clear a picture of your end users as possible, including seemingly irrelevant things about the physical environment where they will be using your documentation.

Many technical writers go into the field because they love writing and need a way to make a living at it. The best writers care about traditional English grammar concerns only so far as they contribute to the overall usefulness of a document. The most important factor when considering grammatic questions is what is least confusing for the reader. It is OK to bend the rules of correctness if it adds to clarity. However, knowledge of grammatical rules is vital if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.

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