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14 Habits of Highly Effective Technical Writers


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You can be an effective leader, regardless of your position. These 7 habits go beyond the basics of developing good content.

Published in: Technology

14 Habits of Highly Effective Technical Writers

  1. 1. • Technical communications leader • 32 years of technical documentation experience • Led writing teams at 6 US companies • Founded Saiff Solutions, Inc. in 2011 • Provides content development to Fortune 500 companies in Japan & US • Loves acronyms About the Speaker: Barry Saiff
  2. 2. AGEND A
  3. 3. Vision DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY a . (learn) 7 Habits of Highly Effective Technical Writers 1 LEARN BEFORE ASKING (respect, impress) 2 ASK . (often) 3 REWRITE (always) 4 ACQUIRE FEEDBACK (test, reviews) 5 UNDERSTAND (before publishing) 6 CONTRIBUTE7
  4. 4. Vision 1. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY (learn) Great technical writers thrive on criticism. They understand that it enables them to improve, and to improve the accuracy and readability of their content. So, don’t take criticism personally. Use it to your advantage.
  5. 5. Vision Learn as much as you can from available resources before asking questions. In this way, you can respect others’ time and impress your colleagues with your ability to ask intelligent questions. 2. LEARN BEFORE ASKING (respect, impress)
  6. 6. Vision Technical writing requires good people skills. Don’t attempt it alone. Ask questions. Ask for help. 3. ASK (often)
  7. 7. Vision Pick 3 of your favorite writers. If you were able to see their first drafts, you’d probably think, “I can do much better.” The best writers in the world are the best re-writers. Always rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite some more. 4. REWRITE (always)
  8. 8. Vision Technical writing is almost never 100% on the first draft. Without adequate testing and review, accuracy is often unattainable. Make sure you get the feedback you need to excel. 5. ACQUIRE FEEDBACK (test, reviews)
  9. 9. Vision When you start, you may not fully understand your subject matter. That’s fine. By the time you publish, make sure you do understand. If you don’t understand what you write, your readers are not likely to understand it, either. If you write something, you need to understand what you wrote. Even if it is just a draft to show your editor, you need to either a) fully understand what you wrote, or b) have a list of questions. Do not write a sentence that you yourself do not understand. 6. UNDERSTAND (before publishing)
  10. 10. Vision Notice things. Does the prototype work as expected? Are the user interface labels capitalized consistently? Ask questions. Make suggestions. Be a part of the product team. 7. CONTRIBUTE
  12. 12. Vision 7 Habits of Highly Effective Technical Communications Leaders You can be an effective leader, regardless of your position. These 7 habits go beyond the basics of developing good content, to answer this question: As a technical communications leader, at any level, how do you influence the work environment, improve the processes, and educate the people to make continuous improvement possible?
  13. 13. Vision While you may have less product knowledge than an engineer, you can view the product from a user’s perspective. Share your input and advocate for product and process improvements. Support similar efforts initiated by others. Focus on quality. 8. BE A CUSTOMER ADVOCATE
  14. 14. Vision Process improvements can benefit everyone on the team, and improve product quality. Can the quality assurance team test the documentation? Can technical writers edit the user interface text and error messages? Can written documentation reviews become a factor in the performance evaluations of all product team members? Would documentation review meetings improve quality? 9. ADVOCATE FOR PROCESS IMPROVEMENTS
  15. 15. Vision If you’re only writing the customer documentation, there is a chance that no one with your skills is editing other user-visible content. Even if you cannot edit this content, you can educate others about key technical writing practices. For example – One concept, One term – each word should be used to mean only one thing. This avoids user confusion, and saves translation funds. Another key technical writing practice: short sentences. 10. CARE ABOUT ALL CUSTOMER-VISIBLE CONTENT
  16. 16. Vision Think about how to create change – look before you leap. Understand the who, what, and how of change. Who are the key stakeholders and decision-makers, and what motivates them? What do they care about? How can you best bring them on board? What are their backgrounds – cultural, professional, educational? Start with curiosity. Listen. Discuss. Ask questions. 11. BE AN EFFECTIVE INTRAPRENEUR
  17. 17. What do you know about the users – education levels, roles? How do they use the product and access the documentation? What percentage read the documentation in English? Collaborative efforts with other teams can aid your research. One way to learn more is to conduct a user survey. While gaining approval can be an uphill battle, the insights gained from a well-designed survey can make the effort worthwhile. Vision12. KNOW YOU AUDIENCE
  18. 18. Vision Not every organization needs to use the latest methodologies. What worked elsewhere may not work for your team. Bring others along with you – educate and involve engineers, quality assurance personnel, marketers, and product managers in assessing and exploring new methodologies. For example, some organizations can benefit from adopting topic- based authoring, without XML or DITA. 13. PROMOTE APPROPRIATE TECHNICAL COMMUNICATIONS METHODOLOGIES, GENTLY
  19. 19. Vision Mistakes provide tremendous opportunities for personal and organizational growth, including improved processes, communications, and skills. Accept these moments and make the most of them. Learn from successes and failures. Remember that what is truly irreplaceable is human life. Learn what you need, and what your coworkers need, to reduce and relieve stress. 14. KEEP PERSPECTIVE, AND DE-STRESS
  20. 20. Vision 7 Habits of Highly Effective Technical Communications Leaders Consistently practicing these 7 habits will support your development as an effective technical communications leader, continuous process improvement in your organization, harmonious work relationships, and improved content and product quality. Be the change you wish to see.
  21. 21. BONUS: Resources • BALANCE infographic (Respect) – We will send it, with the presentation, to all webinar registrants. • Global Content Creation – Making it Work • A Motivating SLAP • The 21 Dimensions of Respect for Foreigners • 2016 New Years Free Gifts • What do good technical writers do? Why do we need them?
  22. 22. Email: Skype: SaiffSolutions Contact: +1 415 350 2959 +63 917 872 0929 Web: Join us at: LavaCon Las Vegas, October 26-29: ALL QUESTIONS ARE WELCOME!
  23. 23. BONUS: Creativity in the Face of Stress A good manager creates and protects a healthy culture. Culture lives in the details. In every moment, every action and interaction. Think about how you deal with stress. You are a role model for your team. Successful managers rely on the 3 Cs: Caring, Competence, and Creativity