We live in an era where we are constantly surrounded by ongoing debates on whether or not technology will take over the world and bots will replace the workforce.
But to say automation will derogate the value of humans in their jobs is rather a simplistic way of seeing things.
Why — you ask?
Well, it is not only the technical skills humans bring to the table but most importantly, soft skills that are of great value in this information age. Combining their professional skills with soft skills, they tend to create everything par excellence.
For instance, there might be various software available in the market that can generate documentation, but the soft skills a technical writer brings in cannot be understated. That technical skills or hard skills are the only requirements for efficient outputs is a misjudgment.
So, if you are a technical writer looking to navigate to the now of documentation and identify the ways to harness your right brain traits, you’ve come to the right place.
In this blog, we take you through 13 soft skills fundamental for technical communication that supplement your technical skills significantly.
But before we move forward, let’s understand the difference between technical skills and soft skills.
Technical Skills VS Soft Skills
A technical writer works on technical documents like user guides, functional specifications, release notes, proposals, whitepapers, and more.
Although the obvious task is to transform complex information into an easy-to-understand and concise document, it’s the hidden roles we’re going to uncover.
Following are the key differences between technical and soft skills.
Prior to curating a masterpiece, every technical writer needs to assimilate the soft skills that help them make a user-friendly documentation with a clear message.
Soft Skills of a Technical Writer
When Peggy Klaus, communications & leadership coach, said “Soft skills get little respect, but will make or break your career,” she couldn’t have been more accurate.
Imagine having all the knowledge in the world but not being able to communicate it. Or having all the expertise in a documentation tool but not being able to meet the deadline.
What do technical writers need? Soft skills!
Often overlooked, soft skills are the bedrock that makes technical knowledge workable.
So, to help you expand your skill set, we have consolidated this list after careful consideration. Read on!
1. Conversational Intelligence
A good technical writer knows the right questions to ask in the right way. Their communication skills come into play here. They must have clear speaking skills, most importantly, listening skills to convey and gain as much information as possible.
The communication skills of a technical writer allow them to extract relevant details from the subject matter experts and organize that data into logical units. Ability to talk to people from various departments and gather information goes a long way in helping technical writers reach their documentation goals.
The emerging trends in technical writing prove that documentation is not just a wall of dry text anymore. It has a life on its own, considering that you give it. So, how do you do it? By focusing on the target audience and their needs!
When a technical writer composes the document, keeping themselves in the shoes of their audience, that’s when the magic happens. With their audience in mind, writers curate documentation that helps troubleshoot their problems and understand the purpose.
Also, being empathetic comes in handy while extracting information from SMEs or product developers. So, it’s a must have skill for tech writers.
3. Rational Thinking
Simply put, rational thinking is the ability to make reasonable and critical decisions.
For instance, while researching and interviewing for documentation, a technical writer often has to decide then and there what information to keep or discard. It might sound easy, but it’s not!
It is the writer’s responsibility to ensure the documentation is user-friendly and not hard to decipher. This is where rational thinking helps gather and process information. In a way, it helps bring out the context and makes it easily consumable by the audience.
Having a knack for getting to the root of a cause or a subject allows a technical writer to understand complex things better. And it further allows them to explain the topic clearly and concisely.
It’s no secret that certain concepts can be monotonous and, at times, difficult to grasp for tech writers themselves, but curiosity helps them remain driven and avoid burnouts.
Attentiveness is the most crucial skill of them all. If someone is not good at concentrating, technical writing is not the right choice.
During the documentation process, one has to have the quality of quick comprehension, memory retention, insights extraction, and more. It is not possible without having a focused attention.
Imagine your teammate or SME talking about the product, functionality, or the project purpose, and you losing your chain of thoughts. How do you suppose the documentation will turn out?
Not a good thought, is it?
Although there is a pool of tested and verified techniques out there to boost the concentration power, we suggest beginning with keeping your workplace organized, disconnecting your social media, and listening to calming music (if required).
The relationship between a technical writer and software is inevitable. Writers have to produce documentation in various formats as per the requirement, and hence they have to know their way around tools.
But here’s the catch!
With technology moving forward at a quick pace, new software and regular updates are inevitable. Tech writers need to learn new tools (or updates) quickly and efficiently. Because all they can do is adapt to the innovation or risk getting replaced by a better substitute or technology itself.
Teamwork is a large part of curating documentation. A tech writer needs to be able to work together with co-writers, editors, product developers, designers, and more. Here, a technical writer’s emotional quotient comes into play. Being open-minded and understanding one another helps achieve a common goal, i.e., documentation.
It’s pretty simple – nobody wants a negative nelly around. Not your client, not your coworkers, and not your seniors, so you’ve got to do some introspection there and learn to collaborate for better productivity and success.
A few widely accepted and known ethical principles that technical communicators follow are – legality, honesty, confidentiality, quality, fairness, and professionalism. If you are well aware of them, then you’re off the hook. But if you aren’t, this is your cue to start building these ethics right away!
These ethics might sound basic; truth be told, they are. But that doesn’t mean these aren’t fundamental to building a writer’s credibility.
9. Planning and Organizing
Have you ever looked at a complex concept and wondered – How am I going to work on this? It’s normal and pretty usual. It happens to the best of us.
But, why? Mainly because our brain is unable to process complex info and large data sets in one go!
So the good news is, it is not impossible; rather, it is simple if you know the right thing to do — planning and organizing.
It helps tech writers break down complex concepts into parts then plan accordingly. One cannot explain or troubleshoot issues if they aren’t clear about them first. So by planning around every little detail and organizing it in a structured format, they succeed.
Your confidence is a game-changer! Whether you’re interviewing SME or product manager or writing the final documentation if you are confident while communicating and presenting, you’re already off to a great start.
You have to show confidence in yourself to gain some. And if you’re new to the technical writing world, don’t know much about documentation, don’t worry! Remember what Roosevelt said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
11. Time Management
Often, if not all times, technical writers have to manage and juggle several projects simultaneously. Every documentation for every client has to be perfect, and that needs precision.
You need to figure out your own method that keeps you refreshed, motivated, and focused on the task before you. We suggest allotting different time slots to a different project and sticking to it. Kind of like the world-renowned Pomodoro technique.
You basically need to distribute your work to avoid work burnout, find your rhythm, take apt breaks, and have strict control of your distractions.
Typically software developers, designers, or SMEs rarely have a minute to spare. And let’s be honest, documentation is at last on their list of priorities.
But it’s a technical writer’s goal and purpose to pull information in a non-nagging and professional way. That needs patience!
As a technical writer, you will have to “ask too many questions,” schedule and reschedule interviews, and sometimes deal with people who aren’t good talkers. You will patiently have to navigate the conversation and whatnot.
So you should start practicing this skill right from the beginning!
13. Staying in Demand
Last and probably the most underrated skill is the ability to stay in demand. Technical writers have to keep themselves up-to-date with the latest trends and technology for career advancement, effective communication, and customer interaction.
Potential or existing customers that employ technical writing services look for an industry expert. When a tech writer is unable to understand trends and utilize the latest technologies, it automatically disconnects them from the consumer. Therefore, it becomes necessary to stay relevant by constantly learning and exploring.
It’s obvious as a technical writer you need good writing, editing, proofreading, and quality check skills. But it’s the hidden aspects of technical writing and documentation that if a writer assimilates with their hard skills, there is no stopping them from being productive, proactive, and efficient.
We have listed key soft skills of a technical writer in our post and if you have anything to add or share, feel free to message by clicking here!