The absolute minimum 10 things for technical writers
Learn the tools0 If your project requires a specific help authoring tool, learn it thoroughly - either on your own or with help of a mentor0 Learn a good graphic tool (SnagIt and/or Visio)0 Learn how to use version control and CMS.0 Learn how to create a good-quality index0 Learn shortcuts for frequently used functions0 Last, but not the least: Learn to type… without looking at keyboard!
Learn the technology0 Contrary to what you may think, you MUST learn the jargon! This helps immensely in talking with the SMEs in their own language.0 If you are working on a long-duration project (> 6 months), try to find out as much as you can about HOWs and WHYs of the product.
Get access0 Get access to: 0 The location where daily release builds are shared 0 The project e-mail alias 0 The bug tracker 0 The version control system (VSS/SVN..)0 Access to these becomes increasingly critical as the release approaches0 In turn, provide quick and easy access to your documentation
Use the product0 Learn how to install and configure the product on your own.0 Use the product… not just superficially, but really hack it.0 If you find any issues, log a bug into bug tracker or share it with a QA.0 Suggest improvements in UI, error messages, usability.
Read the Damn Manual0 No, not the user manual… That’s something YOU are going to create, right?0 Read all the available documentation, especially the High Level Design and Functional Requirements Specs0 If you find something in the docs that’s NOT a part of the product, talk to a dev.
Use Checklists0 Checklists are not something that you create at the end of the project, they should evolve with the project0 Checklist should be atomic, that is broken down to the lowest level possible0 No deliverable should be sent out unless it has passed though a comprehensive checklist
Befriend the QA0 QA team is the usually best source of information regarding the product.0 In exchange for their time for product KT, offer to share with them any bugs you may find
Build and Test0 Insist on including the documentation from first build of product, in whatever state it is.0 Do usability testing of your documents. If YOU can’t install a product by following your own installation guide, chances are, users won’t be able to, either!0 Ask your friendly QA to review your document, and encourage them to raise bugs against you in the bug tracker.
Read0 Your writing often reflects the depth of your reading; Read voraciously.0 Harness the power of Web; read blogs, technical sites and user communities
Keep Writing0 Keep writing… and not just technical writing.0 Write a blog, contribute an article to your company newsletter, respond to queries in online forums.0 Write some fiction; write a bit of poetry.0 Writing is like driving; the more you practice, the better you become at it.