Want to Become a Technical Writer? Read This First.

One of the reasons for becoming a technical writer is because you like writing and, of course, you are good at it. You understand technology and want to combine both technology and writing. Unfortunately, many people come into this field, not because they are interested in technology or in writing, but because:

  • They hear it pays reasonably well.
  • They have heard about the demand for this special breed of people.
  • They are ready to take up any job. When they don’t get their dream job, they just want to settle in for any job for the time being.
  • They probably want to work for a year or two before going for higher studies.
  • Some ladies want to take up a job after a break and think this to be a good option.

Unfortunately, these are not the reasons to become a technical writer. First and foremost try to identify if this is the right profession for you. Money is important, but in this field, interest in the job profile and writing abilities are extremely crucial. This can make or break your career. Darwin’s Theory of the survival of the fittest applies to this scenario as well. Among all the others, only the good writers, with a genuine interest in the field will survive and progress further. The others will get stagnated, bored, and will be disillusioned by their choice! 

Having said this, I would also like to add that not many of the existing writers have come into this profession out of choice. I personally know some writers who wanted to make a career in software development, design, or testing. They did not get an appropriate opportunity and hence, they joined my team as technical writers, have discovered what it is, and have decided that they are content and happy with this profession. But this is a very rare situation and depends on the personal attitude and the basic interest (like reading and writing) of the person. So before you make a rushed decision, sit back and think.

A good technical writer plays a significant and important role in the organization just as a good developer does. Just as an engineer is hired to design graphics, create/develop the product, perform quality assurance, etc., you are hired to create documentation. So you have a specific duty to perform. Whether you believe it or not, agree or not, technical writing is a rewarding career.

My sincere advice is as follows:

  • Technical writing will NOT satisfy your creative carving. It requires you to write to in a restricted manner. You also have to follow styles and formats. It will not satisfy your creative appetite.
  • Do not be lured by the money. There are only a handful of writers who see this as a dream job! The rest see it as an optional job that pays well enough when they are not able to get their dreams jobs. But do not opt for technical writing just for this reason because when reality sinks in, you will become disillusioned.
  • Do not focus only on documentation tools. Many wanna-be writers believe that knowing the publishing tools will get them a job. Instead, focus on:
    • Language, writing, and presentation of information.
    • Subject and technologies (for example, electronics, if you want to document electronics consumer items or finance/commerce if you want to document banking software).
  • Read, read, and read. Try to read about various aspects of technical writing and understand the profile well. Apart from this, also take up reading as a hobby to improve your language. Learn to read for pleasure.
  • Practice. Practice writing in a restricted manner, using the generic rules and guidelines. Refer to books and the style guides (for instance, Microsoft Manual of Style). The more you practice, the more perfect you become.
  • Come out of the comfort of the cocoon. If you are basically a loner, try to become communicative and expressive with your thoughts and ideas. Strange as it may sound, this will help you a lot in your career as technical writing/communication is about communicating. You just can’t avoid it!

Here is a paragraph of the well-known poem “The Road Not Taken”, by Robert Frost.

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

More than two decades back, I chose the lesser known career options of that time and it has definitely made all the difference!

What is Technical Writing?

When was the last time you curled up in bed, with coffee in one hand and a really good user-manual in another, just for the sheer joy of reading it? Never I guess. People read reference manuals to understand concepts, to solve problems, and use products productively, not for leisure reading. They are interested in information that accompanies a product and that describes concepts (science, finance, trade, medicine, etc.).

“Technical writing conveys specific information about a technical subject to a specific audience for a specific purpose.” —Michael Markel

Expanding this, we can say that technical writing is the form of writing which imparts information about a technology/product/service by written and/or visual medium to users of varying levels of knowledge (or knowledge requirement) so that they clearly understand the technology/product/service. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) defines technical communication as the process of gathering information from experts and presenting it to an audience in a clear and easily understandable form.

Technical writing can be defined in different ways:

  • Technical writing is explaining how to use a technology.

It is about writing how products work and how the users have to use them. It informs, explains, and instructs a specific set of the audience so that they gain the knowledge and are able to perform their job functions more effectively. The subject matter can range from promotional material on a new technology to instructions on using a program. The writing can be about a software package, medical instruments, finance software, consumer products, or electrical household products (toaster, mixer, or cooker).

  • Technical writing is the process of shaping the information.

Whenever you communicate, you convey information. How you shape this information is the key to technical writing. The document should be designed and presented in a format and manner that best suits the needs of the readers. You should write in a structured manner so that information clearly and easily expresses the complicated information. Hence, format, layout, and language are the important components of writing as they make the documents simple and usable.

  • Technical writing deals with theories, systems, designs, and methods.

The purpose of technical writing is to allow the users to make the appropriate decision and to perform the relevant task. Hence, it focuses on the subject (technology) methodologies, and the reader (the user). This is probably one of the reasons why technical writing is more popular in the areas of science and technology.

  • Technical writing is similar to investigative writing.

For writing technical documentation, you need to understand the product, identify the audience, slowly uncover the mysteries associated with the product and technology, and then write accordingly.

“When I teach technical writing, I always start off the first class by defining what technical writers do. My take on it: I get to be Arthur Conan Doyle for a living. I spend half my time as Sherlock Holmes, turning over rocks, uncovering clues, from putting together a big complicated puzzle from randomly gathered bits of information. Then I spend the other half of my time as Dr.Watson, writing it down in such a manner that it enlightens my audience.” —John Garison

  • Technical writing is NOT a job just for the language experts.

Very often, people judge the profession by its name. Hence the writer part of the term technical writer can be misleading. Many people assume that the profession is directly related to journalism, literature, and writing. I still remember the queries I used to face during my early days in this eld.

People were more concerned than I was regarding my choice of careerYou are an engineer. What are you doing as a technical writer?

As the name suggests, technical writing is a combination of technology and writing. It is often difficult to decide which factor is more important of the two. There can be a debate on technical versus writing, to decide what is more important. Are language and writing skills important? Is technical competence more important? Neither!

A healthy combination of both writing talent and technical aptitude is essential to make a good and successful technical writer. The weightage of the requirement (between the two) depends on the job profile, the organization you are working for, the product you are writing about, and the type of document you are writing. There are some instances, wherein you need to possess subject knowledge because of the subject matter you write about. So it is important to understand the value of (and not underestimate) both parts of the job title Technical Writer.

  • It is the field of writing which is audience specific.

Technical information is compiled in a format such that different types of readers can use it. Some of them may be familiar with the subject while others may have no knowledge about it. Hence, the most important element of effective technical writing is knowing your audience and meeting their needs and expectations.

Example:

    • Writing for engineers is different from writing for university students.
    • Writing for an internal newsletter is different from writing newsletters for business purpose.
    • Writing to explain (user’s guide) is absolutely different from writing to persuade to make a decision (proposals).

We can summarize these definitions and say that good technical writing has to:

  • Fulfill all the requirements of the users.
  • Confirm to the styles and format.
  • Be technically and grammatically correct.
  • Be simple, concise, and easy to understand.
  • Be free of errors and omissions.
  • Be useful and user-friendly in terms of information, language, and format.

Commonly Asked Technical Writing Related Questions

Is technical writing different from creative writing?

Technical writing is definitely different from creative writing. It is not for any reader—it is directed to a specific audience who reads to understand a product. So, the writing should be clear, concise, accurate, and easy to understand.

Writers like Shoba De, Chetan Bhagat, Jeffery archer, and Robin Cook write to satisfy their creative urge. Technical writers have to follow rules and guidelines regarding what to write and what not to write.

Technical writing is format driven. Companies and technical journals often have their own way of organizing and laying out the content of technical documents. The writers have to follow the organization specific format and style. In short, we can say that the characteristics that set technical writing apart from other types of writing include audience, language, purpose, format, writing style, and the use of visuals.

Is it necessary for the technical writers to have technical background?

NO! It is not necessary unless the subject you are going to write about is highly technical in nature and requires a long learning curve even to understand the basic concepts. In such cases, it is advantageous for you to have technical background, but not in the same sense as the engineers, the programmers, the developers, or the support staff.

Apart from taking care of the format, language, and style, technical writers should also understand the technology, theory, and applications of the projects they are assigned to document. To do that, writers either need some technical expertise or have the ability to understand the information/technology.

The idea is to be able to understand the function, feature, and/or product well enough to write about them, but at the same time be able to view them from the standpoint of an ignorant user who doesn’t know the product well. A good technical writer should be able to ask the questions that a user might have and write the manual accordingly.

Programmers, developers, engineers and/or project managers are often too close to the subject and the product they develop that they don’t think the obvious! Hence being able to look at a function, a feature, a product from the standpoint of an user can also be an asset.

Is good writing skill the only qualification needed for a technical writer?

No! Good writing skill is a definite prerequisite. But again, there are many types of writers. Some are verbose and some others may use flowery and creative language. Such writers are definitely not well-suited for technical writing. But, if they learn to write in a restricted manner, they make excellent technical writers.

As a technical writer, you must be a clear thinker, well-organized, follow styles and formats, and adapt to restrictive writing. You should also be a quick learner, good researcher, and extremely good at multitasking. The list of skills is endless.

Is there a need to have formal training in English?

No! I am not aware how the knowledge of the works of Shakespeare, Keats, and/or Frost can help you with technical writing. Jokes apart, it is important that you have sound knowledge of the language. Formal training in English is definitely not a prerequisite, but it is an advantage in some cases. In India, unlike other areas (web development, web designing, programming, graphics designing, animation, quality assurance), technical writing does not have a widely recognized certification.

The educational qualification required, is also inconsistent and wholly depends on the requirement of the job and the organization. Hence, it is important for the technical writers to have a right balance of the language skills and understanding of the technical concepts.

Which is more important—writing skills or subject/domain knowledge?

What is more important—your right leg or your left leg? Both are equally important. You may be little more comfortable using one over the other. The same stand is applicable to writing skills and subject/domain knowledge.

The written skills gets you the job, where as you can learn the subject on the job. But unless and until you know the subject you have to write about, you can’t do a good job. Apart from the other skills (grammar, writing, critical thinking, etc.) domain knowledge is also important for succeeding as a technical writer.

Good audience analysis includes knowing about your users and their requirements. It includes learning about the domain you work in, be it engineering, finance, medicine, law, gardening, database maintenance, or rocket science.

Can technical writers do the job of an editor?

Writers with eye for detail and good editing and organizational skills can double up as editors. In large and well-established documentation groups, editing is definitely an editors job. Not all technical writers can do justice to the job of an editor. The ability of being an editor depends wholly on the editorial skills of the writers, not on the years of experience they command.

Will previous experience in another field be taken into account when changing jobs to technical writing?

A commonly asked question is: I have n years experience in xyz field. Why do I have to join as a trainee or as a junior writer? Simple!

It is because you will be learning the basics of the job just as the others. The same amount of time and effort will have to be dedicated to you for training (the concepts, writing styles, procedures, tools, etc.). This is even more evident if the work experience you have is in no way related to technical writing.

Any previous experience will be valid in terms of the soft skills (team spirit, communication, leadership qualities, attitude towards work, etc.) which will help you to get faster promotions if you are a good technical writer. Use the non-related work experience for climbing up the professional ladder, not to be close to the top of the ladder when you enter the profession.

In a senior position, you are expected to make important decisions about the project, which can make or break a project. Relevant experience helps in making the right decision at critical stages of the project. Making wrong decisions, when you consciously think that you are right may cause a critical situation!

If you strongly feel that the prior experience is of extreme importance to you, you should probably continue in the same field. If you have decided to change careers and move on from your present field to become a technical writer, then let go of the ghost of the “previous experience” and think of yourself as a technical writer. This will help you move forward with a clarity of thought.

Is age a barrier?

It is and it is not! When hiring experienced writers, age is definitely not considered. When hiring someone without previous technical writing experience, age sometimes becomes a selection criteria. One of the reason is because, after other experience, the expectations of the candidate is much more than a fresher who is relatively younger and inexperienced.

Most of the times, organizations are ready to take in people with no related experience in junior positions offering salary relative to their relevant experience and skills. Those seeking a job may not be able to accept the fact that after having years of work experience, they are considered to be on the same level as the trainees.

In such a situation, ask yourself if you possess the skills required for this job? Do you have the relevant experience? Why should the organization pay you for the skills and the experience you don’t possess? This will give you an answer why you are recruited at an entry level.

You need to be flexible and mature in terms of understanding and accepting your limitations. If you are comfortable working with youngsters, in a junior position, for a lesser salary (probably), and if you are confident of using the skills of your prior working experience(s) to your advantage, age doesn’t really matter.

On a personal perspective, the age limit is more of a mental state than physical. If you are eager to learn and grow in the team starting from the basics, age is not a constraint. For that matter, age is not a barrier in any field if you have the right attitude and if you are mentally and physically fit for the job/work.

Changing Career (to and from Technical Writing)

This is an excerpt from my book “Technical Writing” published in 2008.

Changing Careers to Technical Writing

You may currently be doing something else and want to take up technical writing as your career. In this case, you are not only changing your job but your career as well. Even though you are unhappy with the current job, the very thought of change is unnerving. If you are making a switch only because of some minor problems you are facing in your current job, you should look for the solutions to the problems. Else, you may have time only to run away from problems.

If you are considering changing careers, you may have some concerns if you are not really aware of the job profile. Any change is scary, and changing careers is even scarier. Once you have decided to move on to technical writing, first start by putting together a perfect resume. You may have to underplay some of your existing talents, experience, and skills and overplay a few others that are specific to this field.

  • Some Concerns

As a person with some work experience (though not related to this field), you may have a few concerns (in a random order):

    • The first concern may probably be whether you would like the work. You may fear that you may not like the job profile, the responsibilities, the work atmosphere, the corporate culture, or the that you might find it boring or not stimulating enough.
    • Another major concern is regarding the salary. Since you enter this field as a newcomer, chances are you might earn less than what you presently earn. On the other hand, chances are that you might earn more than your current salary.
    • You may also worry about losing out on benefits that you currently enjoy
  • Still Concerned?

If these issues don’t bother you, it means that you are ready for the change. You can now focus on other factors that will help you to prepare yourself for this change:

    • Understand the concepts of technical writing, the tools used, and other things related to this field so that you can converse logically and intelligently.
    • Take a look at a few manuals to understand how they are written, organized, and formatted.
    • Understand why and how certain things are done (e.g., consistency in the documents)
  • Previous Experience

A commonly asked question is I have x years experience in abcd field. Why do I have to join as a trainee or as a junior writer? Simple! It is because you will be learning the basics of the job just like the others. The same amount of time and effort will have to be dedicated to you for training (the concepts, writing styles, processes, procedures, tools, etc.).

This is even more evident if the work experience you have is in no way related to writing (instructional designing, content writing, etc.). Any previous experience will be valid in terms of the soft skills (team spirit, communication, leadership qualities, etc.) which will help you to get faster promotions if you are a good technical writer. Use the non-related work experience for climbing up the professional ladder, not to be close to the top of the ladder when you enter the profession.

In a senior position, you are expected to make important decisions about the project, which can make or break a project. Relevant experience helps in making the right decision at the critical stages of the project. Making wrong decisions, when you consciously think that you are right may cause a critical situation! If you strongly feel that the prior experience is of extreme importance to you, you should probably continue in the same field. If you have decided to change careers and move on from your present field to become a technical writer, then think of yourself as one. This will help you move forward with a clarity of thought.

Changing Careers from Technical Writing

The question is how many people are content being a technical writer? Do they see themselves being technical writers for the rest of their working lives, or do they hope to move into another field or into management category? There are numerous instances wherein technical writers with over 10 years experience are still senior writers or team leaders. This does not mean that they are not good at their work.

This happens due to lack of the right opportunity, lack of organizational requirement, or even the organizational policies. These writers don’t mind the designation as very often they are paid well for their skills, knowledge, expertise, and experience. Many of them earn more than what a documentation manager with similar or lesser experience might earn. If you are a motivated individual, you can find a lot of opportunities to grow in the area of technical writing.

Actually, the designation makes no sense here—it is all in the mind. But again, this is a very personal perspective. Before asking what next ask, yourself the following questions?

    • Do you know your responsibilities as a technical writer?
    • Did you identify areas where you wanted to improve?
    • Have you set goals for yourself|long term and short term?
    • Have you learned from your mistakes?
    • Have you found solutions for all the problems you have faced?
    • Did you gain the respect of people in your team and other teams you work with?
    • Do the others feel that you are a dependable and/or responsible team person
    • Do the others see you as a valuable member of the team?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, ask yourself why do you feel the need to switch careers or move out of the organization? If you feel that you still have a long way to go, first try to achieve the goals to overcome them and then ask yourself what next?

How is Technical Writing Different?

There are several factors that set technical writing apart from other types of writing.

TW

Technical writing is characterized by a combination of all these elements. No single characteristic distinguishes technical writing from other kinds of writing. Remember, the saying, beauty lays in the eyes of the beholder. So, it is not surprising that technical writers find beauty in the bland manuals. They can appreciate a well written, usable, useful, and well-organized manual, because that’s the beauty of technical writing!

Purpose

Technical writing is directed to a specific set of audience who reads to understand a product, or a concept, or to perform a task. The document should inform, instruct, and educate them. It should contain facts, theories, information, and details that the users look for.

Technical writing is factual, not fictional.

Audience

The users read a document with a purpose to learn, understand, perform certain tasks and to make certain decisions. They are users of the writing. Hence, you should know about your audience and try to meet their expectations. You have to write what they want and what they need to know, not what you want or what you may want them to know. The audience is the most important element of effective technical writing.

Technical writing is usually for a specific set of audience.

Language

It takes a different level of writing talent to write different kinds of documents. The document should help the readers accomplish the task without them noticing that they were helped along by excellent documentation. Use of language is an important factor that distinguishes it from the other forms of writing.

  • Technical writing involves language that is specific to a particular concept, science, technology, or product. It is informative in nature.

Technical writing is informative, not entertaining.

  • Technical writing is characterized by the information that is accurate, informative, and useful. The language used by literary writers is avoided. You have to choose words carefully and construct sentences that emphasize utility over beauty.

Technical writing emphasizes on utility over beauty.

Writing Style

Creative writers have their own style and mode of writing and hence, we can often identify the writer by the style of their writing. In comparison to the other forms of writing, technical writing is bland because you have to follow certain do’s and don’ts in terms of writing styles and guidelines when creating technical documents. Technical writing is consistent, organized, logical, systematic, and format specific. The identity of the technical writer is lost to standard stylistic issues, format, and rules.

    • The aim of the writing is to inform and to help the users perform tasks, not to confuse them. Hence, the writing should be clear, accurate, easy to understand, and concise.

Technical writing is concise and to-the-point.

    • It is less creative. You should make consistent use of terminologies, numbers, hyphens, units of measure, punctuation, equations, grammar, symbols, capitalization, and abbreviations. The information and format can be creative when writing marketing material.

Technical writing is logical and consistent.

    • Technical writing is an art because it conveys information to the reader in a way that enables the reader to easily understand the technical information. It is science because it deals with methods, systems, design, theory, and results.

Technical writing is a combination of art and science.

Format

The companies with well-established teams have their own customized style guides, which describes the guidelines and the style issues. They often have a preferred way of writing, organizing, and laying out the content of the technical documents. The writers have to follow the format and stylistic guidelines decided by the organization.

Technical writing is format driven.

Organization

In technical documents, the information has to be organized sequentially and systematically. There has to be a logical sequence to the sections and procedures to reflect the usage and patterns.

Technical writing is systematic, organized, and sequential.

Visual Aids

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The users appreciate a tabular representation of the data or a flow chart instead of wading through lengthy paragraphs. Hence, make use of appropriate visuals aids in the document instead of painting a picture of words. Visual aids help in the following ways:

    • Capturing the attention and interest of the readers
    • Explanation—technical information can often be described better using different types of visual aids (illustrations, snapshots, tables, flow-charts, photographs, graphs) than it can be in words
    • Clarification—to show more about something explained in words so that the users understand the concept faster and clearer, without any confusion.
    • Better understanding—it provides an alternative for those who learn better visually than verbally.

Tone

The tone of the writing is objective and to the point.

    • The procedures are written in an instructive tone
    • Active voice is preferred over passive voice.
    • Sentences are action oriented (Click this…, Press that…, Do this to do that… etc.)

Dependency

Creating a documentation is not a stand alone function—it depends on many factors:

    • The information you receive from the SMEs

You have to depend on the SMEs for getting the document reviewed for technical accuracy. Most of the time, they may not respond to your request for timely review. If the documents are not reviewed on time, the entire documentation schedule gets delayed, due to which the product release also gets delayed.

    • Development of the product

If any functionality of the product is changed, you will have to make the corresponding change to the document. If the product (or a functionality) is not stable, and is in a dynamic state of constant change, you may not be in a position to write that part of the document.

    • The deadline followed by the engineers.
    • The tools and procedures used for documentation

In any case, the writer will be held responsible for the delay for not completing the document on time and will be seen as incapable and inefficient. This problem usually arises when the work of the documentation team is underestimated.

Is Age a Barrier for Technical Writers?

Is age a barrier when hiring technical writers? Well, the answer is—it is and it is not!

When hiring experienced writers, age is definitely not considered. When hiring someone without previous technical writing experience, age sometimes becomes a selection criterion. One of the reason is that after other experience, the expectations of the candidate is much more than a fresher who is relatively younger and inexperienced.

Most of the times, organizations are ready to take in people with no related experience in junior positions and might offer a salary relative to their relevant experience and skills. Those seeking a job may not be able to accept the fact that after being experienced, they are considered to be on the same level as the trainees.

In such a situation, ask yourself if you possess the skills required for this job? Do you have the relevant experience? Why should the organization pay you for the skills and the experience you don’t possess? This will give you an answer why you are recruited at an entry level. You need to be flexible and mature in terms of understanding and accepting your limitations. If you are comfortable working with youngsters, in a junior position, for a lesser salary (probably), and if you are con dent of using the skills of your prior working experience to your advantage, age doesn’t really matter.

On a personal perspective, the age limit is more of a mental state than physical. If you are eager to learn and grow in the team starting from the basics, age is not a constraint. For that matter, age is not a barrier in any eld if you have the right attitude and if you are mentally and physically fit for the job/work.

Technical Writing: 10 Myths and Facts (Part 2)

continued…

Myth 6: Documentation review can wait. There is a lot of work in development.

There is a lot of work in the documentation too. The SMEs should understand that product release can slip if the documentation is not ready on time. Hence, timely review of documentation is very important. To overcome this problem, you should try to make documentation an integral part of the software development life cycle (SDLC). It will help in ensuring that:

    • The documentation review is included in the schedules of the reviewers.
    • Review comments are returned to writers on time.
    • Writers are informed of necessary changes in the product much in advance of deadlines for them to make the necessary modifications.

Fact: Documentation can’t wait. If it does, so will the product release.

Myth 7: What does a technical writer do? Just write!

Most of the people assume that technical writers just write. According to them, it is an easy task and hence they don’t respect this profession. People will realize the importance of technical writing and view it with value and respect only when they understand the following:

    • The actual work profile of a technical writer.
    • The other skills apart from writing which are equally important.
    • The problems/issues associated with this profession.
    • The process of documentation is also a process of product testing and quality control. This is because, writers observe and report problems and weaknesses in the product that may affect the users.
    • The document is an integral part of product delivery. Unless the documentation is ready, the software cannot be released!

Awareness is the key that will get you the due respect. Spread awareness about the responsibilities of the technical writers, atleast in the organization you work in.

Fact: Writing constitutes only about 40% of the writers job.

Myth 8: Technical writers have nothing much to do.

This is an extension of the previous myth! A technical writer has to perform so many other tasks other than just writing and performing the related activities as a part of the documentation process:

    • Multitask: Work on different projects and products at different stages of completion.
    • Organize: Keep projects in order and to prioritize the work
    • Keep your cool: Deal with crises and deadlines when they occur.
    • Manage: Keep track of various statuses and results, and follow up with a number of people. It is about self-management along with project and time management.
    • Training: You can be a part of the corporate training group to train engineers and staff in communication and writing skills.
    • Review: Review the user interface and the usability of the products. Enter defects to formalize the processes.

Fact: Technical writers often have to work on multiple projects at a given point of time.

Myth 9: Why technical writers? SMEs can do the job just as well.

Some people think that SMEs can create documentation. They are probably right, but not 100% right.

    • Time required to produce the documentation would be reduced because they need not learn and/or understand the technology, concepts, and functionalities. Some SMEs are good writers. But being a good writer does not make them good technical writers because they do not know what to write and how to write. Hence, a technical writer will still have to spend time editing the document, focusing at certain aspects like the organization of information and stylistic factors to make it usable and useful. The professional writers are more efficient in their job and produce high-quality documentation. They are trained to structure documents, put together information to make it easy to understand and perform other related writing activities.

Fact: An SME may be a good writer, but not a good technical writer.

    • It is a general assumption that since the engineers know the application better than anyone else, they can write about it better. The first part of the sentence is true—no one knows the product better than the people who have created it. But this very fact (their familiarity with the product) becomes a major disadvantage. Technical writers, on the other hand, can think and ask questions as a user would.

Fact: The writers are trained to convert the mistakes, assumptions, work around, shortcuts, and questions, into usable and valid information.

    • The engineers will not be able to focus on the areas of their core competency—coding, programming, designing, or troubleshooting, etc. The engineers may lose their concentration as it takes them away from their primary task of creating the software. Trying to stretch themselves too much across functions reduces their quality and productivity. It is better to be the master of the trade and do the work well and meet the required deadlines, instead of trying to perform tasks they are not trained or required to do.

Fact: Technical writers are trained to perform the documentation related tasks just as the developers are trained to do theirs!

Myth 10: There is no need to involve technical writers in the product development phase.

As a result of this thought, some organizations do not take documentation seriously.

    • They do not even have dedicated staff or process for the documentation efforts.
    • The writers are not involved in the early stages of product development.
    • Sometimes they are expected to produce user manuals without even having access to the product or having any valid information. On the other hand, involving the writers in the early stages of the product development phase is not only advantageous to the writer, but to the product team as well:
    • It gives the writers an idea of various stages of development of the product. They can make an accurate documentation plan based on the information they get from these early interactions.
    • They can complete the documentation on time.
    • This will allow the writers to get involved in the user interface (UI) review. They can make appropriate suggestions for changes to the user interface early in the product development phase

Fact: Technical writers should be involved in the project from the early stages of product development phase.