Techie Technical Writer Series, Part III: Faking It as a Techie Writer

This is Part 3 of 3 in the Techie Technical Writer Series

See also Part 1 of this series, Being a Techie Writer
See also Part 2 of this series, Becoming a Techie Writer

These articles have been filed under Getting Started in Technical Writing

 

If you’re not yet a techie technical writer but are working on improving your skills, you can take some steps to fake being a techie technical writer if you need to:

  • Ask lots of questions. If possible, find a techie pal to help explain concepts or technologies to you, as well as help you evaluate technologies or technology-based solutions. The first warning sign of a writer who isn’t technically engaged is a writer who doesn’t ask questions. Asking questions will help you appear interested and help you learn and build your techie skills.
  • Develop a good crap detector. As you ask questions and discuss technologies, you’ll find that some of the information that SMEs or even well-meaning resources provide is simply wrong. You don’t need to understand, necessarily, if you can spot information or claims that seem unusual or unexpected. For example, even with no knowledge of how the inside of a computer works, if you’re told that the computer has a 2000 watt power supply, you can figure out that the computer probably doesn’t really use the power of 20 to 30 light bulbs (at least without tripping circuit breakers when it starts up), so that’s likely to be incorrect. If you catch it, you’re well on your way to being seen as acceptably techie for a technical writer.
  • Learn what’s a “big deal” and what’s not. SMEs and technical experts often have a different idea of what’s a big deal than you do. That is, in a well-written computer program, making changes in the user interface is very visible and significant to you, but the act of making changes is trivially easy to the developers. Don’t assume that you know what issues are important to them and, instead, take time to find out. By doing so, you’ll not only appear to be interested and aware of what those issues are, but also begin to understand them.
  • Defer to the readers/customers/users. As you’re learning new technologies and improving your techie skills, ask your SMEs to provide information in the context of what readers need, not what the new creation will do. By doing so, you’ll not only have a context for the techie details, which will help you learn the techie details more easily, but also help SMEs see that you have an interest in their goals.
  • Stick to one thing at a time. As you’re improving your techie skills, try to maintain focus on a single issue or technology at a time. For example, if you’re trying to learn a new application or product for documentation you’re writing, don’t simultaneously start learning ForeHelp. You won’t always be able to focus on learning one techie skill at a time, but by doing so you can likely learn faster and run less of a risk of being seen as a dilettante.
  • Learn to be self-supporting in at least one techie thing. For example, if you rely on engineers to install the new software on a system for you, learn (by rote if necessary) how to do it for yourself. Your effort will buy you a lot of latitude for other issues.

Of course, in addition to helping you be seen as a techie technical writer, faking it also has another significant advantage: it can help you become a techie technical writer.

Eric Ray
AB, German and Secondary Education
MA, Technical Communication
Techie writer