There’s something a little depressing and a little frustrating in to of the items I see listed under Qualifications for many technical writing jobs. I’m sure you know them:
- Ability to work simultaneously on different documentation modules and products in a fast paced development environment with minimum supervision
- Ability to work in a deadline driven environment with strong emphasis on consistency, usability, and quality
Sometimes they are combined:
- Able to work in a very fast paced environment and handle multiple projects at the same time.
The first one says, “We won’t protect you from competing priorities” or, in short, “Your manager won’t manage.”
The ability to manage all projects on all products in a fast-paced environment and produce high-quality, accurate, consistent, and readable documentation is often combined with an experience level of no more than five years. In other words, the employer is not about to pay for a senior writer. So the second one says,”We expect the impossible.” It’s a basic rule of project management: You can have it Good. You can have it Fast. You can have it Cheap. Pick Two.
Experience aside, if you are flipping from product to product, it’s difficult to get a coherent body of knowledge in your head assembled and then re-packaged. This multiplies the chance of a mistake: of missing something, of inconsistency, of applying a detail from one product to a description of another product. You need a manager who will deflect or delay some work requests.
The Mary Sue blog offers new examples of Ikea-like instructions for science fiction. You’ll notice that the images have omitted a few important details. These are obviously component-level assemblies.
Step 1: Assemble the parts
Pradipta Pati on LinkedIn started a discussion on, “How can a technical writer from non-technical background succeed in managing complex technical information or document?” There were several good answers: look into content management systems and help tools,write in XML, ask a lot of questions, maintain a query sheet, shut up and listen, use the S1000D standard for documentation about manufacturing, do your homework, insist on seeing demos and source documents, talk to others than just the engineers. Here’s my contribution:
Do some research into the development cycle of whatever you’re documenting, the industry and its practices, and currest best practices in project management and documentation. A glossary is key because you need to understand what people are telling you.Find out what knowledge your audience brings to their reading, so that you know where to start explaining. Develop a description of the beginner, typical user, and advanced user, then use them to check whether you’re covering what they need to know. Get lots of feedback at early stages:audience definition, knowledge to be transferred, discrete topics, who needs to know what, and a coherent order of presentation.
Try to include overviews and concepts as well as how-to information. Support verbiage with diagrams or tables. Ask the experts if your translation of what they said is accurate, but also identify gaps in their explanations. Use your research to fill in the parts that they assume everyone knows.
Nortak Software Limited, with offices in Ottawa and Toronto, is looking for a bilingual technical writer with a security clearance to write about IT topics. It’s in the NCR, which must be National Capital Region and not National Cash Register, so that’s Ottawa.
- Must be fluent in English writing and reading.
- Experience working with MS Word, MS Excel, MS Powerpoint, Acrobat, and Visio.
- Experience in interviewing technical/business staff.
- Valid Reliability Status (RS) security clearance.
- Must demonstrate experience in editing and revising French and English documents including Websites.
- Must demonstrate experience working with a technical team, i.e.: System Analysts, Developers, technical specialists, IT Service Management specialists.
- Must demonstrate experience working with business requirements and technical specification documents.
- Must demonstrate experience as a Technical Writer.
The agency TeamRecruiter is looking for a technical writer for a contract in Mississauga. The job requires experience in complying with ITIL or ISO documentation standards.
If you’d like to have your technical documentation evaluated, with suggestions for improvement, enter Canada’s national “tech pubs” competition. This year the Toronto and Southwestern Ontario chapters are holding a competition for all chapters across Canada. Non-members are welcome to enter as well. Submit your online communication or technical publication entry by Tuesday December 3rd. Read more on the STC Toronto Chapter web site (http://www2.stctoronto.org/get-involved/competition
This is a great opportunity to have your work reviewed by both regional and international industry professionals. The best chapter-level entries will be submitted in the spring to the STC International Competition. A win reflects credit on both you and your employers.