In many ways, technical writing may be structured in a way that allows for little leeway when it comes to creativity—however, the process for writing and producing technical content doesn’t differ all that much from what a journalist must do to create a news story.
Unless you are writing about topic you are completely intimate with, which would typically make you an industry expert, chances are you will have to lean on another person to gather all the necessary information to produce content for your publication. Whether you are producing technical content for an end user or writing a news story, one rule that a journalist or technical writer should always circle back to is: Keep your writing to the point, short and concise.
Develop Relationships with Your Sources
A journalist must have excellent communication skills and be able to ask the right questions of their sources. Make sources comfortable with why you are asking them for valuable information and stressing the importance of your role in conveying that information to readers. Knowing the right questions to ask can be difficult sometimes, especially when you have a source that may not be willing to be completely helpful. Therefore, it’s important to sell experts and sources on the importance of sharing their knowledge base.
Technical Writing doesn’t deviate much from this plan of action. Interviewing experts in the field that you must develop work instruction or operational procedures for can be difficult at times as well. It is important to help engineers, technicians and industry experts understand that by sharing their knowledge of the products and services they provide, you can create clear and concise work instruction. If the content is for internal procedures, it makes everyone on the job site lives easier when all employees can follow easy to read materials. Less mistakes equals less stress and wasted time. If it’s end user documentation that a tech writer is creating, the more understandable it is to the public, the result is less calls and emails from users asking how to use the products or services once they are already in the marketplace.
Some Key skills to gain the most from your sources are:
- Knowing the best to go-to industry experts for your content
- Excellent note taking skills
- Having as much understanding of the material you are writing about, possibly through hands on experience
- Backing up your writing with facts or data
- Looking for various media opportunities to enhance your content, such as photographs, interactive models and flow charts
The End Result Requires the Same Tricks
When it comes to producing content, the thought process can be similar between writing news pieces and technical documentation. One important question to ask is: What message do I want to convey with my content? Sometimes you may have to keep in mind voice of your publication, or maybe the style or procedures your company or publication utilizes.
Sometimes mixed media brings a story to life. Understanding how to compile data into graphics or creating interactive diagrams into technical documentation is an important factor. In the mixed media age we live in, end users and readers are going to want to read online more times than not and have a visually appealing piece to read. Data and graphics all add to the interactivity of your writing and understanding the correct software to produce that content is critical.
Journalists usually utilize Adobe programs, xml authoring systems and Microsoft programs just as any tech writer would for their job. Some programs used by both journalists and tech writers are the same, some completely different, but knowing how and where to produce content for the correct medium is important for any journalist or tech writer.
Style deserves equal consideration. Just as a journalist must typically follow API style and sometimes a specific style of a publication they are writing for, just as a technical writer must follow style and procedures for the company they write for.
In the end, a career in journalism is great preparation for becoming a tech writer and both have a lot transferrable skills.