People have heard of novelists, journalists, columnists, essayists, bloggers, etc., but not as many are familiar with technical writers. I rarely offer up to strangers that I’m a technical writer because this usually leads to the need for further explanation, and that’s more interaction with a stranger than this introvert can handle. Just kidding. Not really.
When someone wants more than my basic 20-second elevator speech, I share the following:
A technical writer is someone who seeks to present information in a clear and concise manner. My goal is to share knowledge and information, not craft the perfect or most poetic sentence. I sometimes feel like I’m the anti-writer because I spend most of my day eliminating words that cloud meaning. If I’m not eliminating words, then I’m taking apart and restructuring sentences to improve readability. Few things bring me more joy than shortening a sentence and at the same time enhancing its meaning.
Takeaway: We’ve been tweeting before Twitter was a thing.
The Organizer and Curator
Technical writers are highly skilled at organizing information. That’s the true key to being a successful technical writer. In some companies, technical writers are referred to as information architects because we organize and structure content to reduce the reader’s cognitive load or improve the reader’s processing fluency, which allows the reader to absorb more information faster. Additionally, we ensure information is complete, accurate, and up-to-date, and that’s what makes the content we produce valuable to companies and organizations.
Takeaway: In my world, only usable information has value.
Technical writers translate technical information into plain English. We work with highly technical individuals who design and provide highly technical products or services. One of the teams I worked with consisted of two mathematicians, a physicist, a software engineer, a petroleum engineer, and an aerospace engineer (I liked to refer to him as the rocket scientist. BTW, the rocket scientists married a brain surgeon, but they promised not to reproduce–whew). There were only two individuals on the team who did not have a PhD—me being one of the two. The value technical writers provide in this situation is the ability to translate technical information into something that non-technical users find useful.
Takeaway: We provide a communication bridge between the geeks and the rest of the world.
Technical writers work under tight deadlines and are often caught in “hurry-up and wait” situations. Hurry up and get this done, but wait until everyone else is finished. We often find ourselves hunting for information that our intended audience will find useful, which is sometimes different from what’s available or what the SME (subject matter expert) feels is interesting or important. Therefore, we need to be proactive seekers of useful information. We need to be collaborators and good team members. Most importantly, we need to be the voice, champion, and advocate of the user.
Takeaway: We’re one of the highest paid professionals in the communication and writing field because what we do is hard and sometimes unpleasant.
In summary, it takes more than 20 seconds to explain adequately what I do for a living, but I’m okay with that.
References and Resources: