Part I: Best Technical Writing Tools—Personal Skills

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You may be a high school student on the verge of entering college. Or, perhaps you’re a seasoned professional looking for a career change. Regardless of the specific scenario, when you’re considering a career in technical writing, you should seek to own the same skillsboth technical and personalthat every successful technical writer has.

Below are descriptions of several personal skills that will be helpful in your new career. Following each description are questions to ask yourself to help you determine whether you have what it takes to be a successful technical writer.

Social Skills

As a technical writer, when you research a project and interview Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), you’ll encounter many different personality types. Some people will be kind, helpful, and organized, while others will be difficult, stubborn, and uncooperative. You need to be able to do what is necessary to maintain the integrity of the project, while hopefully keeping office politics at bay and maintaining professional relationships with your SMEs.

  • Can you get along with different types of people?
  • How do you handle difficult people?
  • Are you able to communicate well with others?
  • How do you resolve conflicts?
  • Can you actively participate in project meetings?

Language Skills

As a technical writer, your goal is to effectively communicate information to your readers in a clear and concise manner. To do this, you must have a good understanding of the English language, and you need to know the rules of grammarboth when to use those rules and when it’s okay to break them.

You need to be able to compile information from many different sources (e.g., engineering reports, purchasing data, SME interviews, and marketing information). You also need to be able to put the material together in a way that is consistent and understandable and, of course, it must be accurate—one small mistake in your documentation could land your employer in a heap of legal troubles.

  • Do you have a writing background?
  • What resources do you use as references for grammar?
  • Do you have good editing and proofreading skills?
  • Are you detail oriented?

Learning Skills

In your technical writing career, you may write about topics that are unfamiliar to you. To successfully communicate the necessary information to the reader, you need to be able to write about a subject you don’t fully understand, and you must also be willing to quickly learn about that subject.

  • Are you a logical thinker?
  • Can you explain new ideas simply and concisely?
  • Are you able to grasp new concepts quickly?

Organizational Skills

Good organizational skills are vital, especially when you work on multiple projects at once. Or, you may have one very large project that is complex and involves many different resources. You need to be able to see the big picture and not get overwhelmed by the many smaller parts.

  • Are you organized?
  • Do you have good time management skills?
  • Can you delegate?
  • Are you on time for meetings and appointments?
  • Are you disciplined?
  • Can you work with minimal supervision?
  • Do you have initiative?

If you’re still unsure whether a career as a technical writer is right for you, find several local technical writers and ask if you can shadow them for a day. Or, ask if you can interview them to learn about the work environment of a technical writer and gain insight on what they do during a typical day. You’ll have the opportunity to analyze the career and decide whether it’s a good choice for you.