2020 has been an unpredictable and challenging year for the world, and the technical writing field is no exception. We sat down with product leads at prominent technology firms to capture their thoughts on what 2021 will mean for the field of technical writing. We’ve summarized their anonymous responses below. The good news? More than 50% of those interviewed said they do expect to hire technical writers next year.
What are the most important skill sets you look for in a technical writer?
Our interviewees recommended the following key skills for technical writers at all stages of their career:
An interest and aptitude in technical skills. Interviewees didn’t expect all technical writers to be coders themselves (although that wouldn’t hurt) but they did want candidates who understood how code worked, had experience working with APIs, understood systems like Git, HTML, Python, and SQL, and had an interest in emerging topics like machine learning, automated source control, and security.
Strong writing ability. Interviewees noted that technical writers needed to be able to communicate complex ideas in terms that regular people could understand, which also meant the ability to stay organized and understand the material.
Ability to communicate with a team. Since technical writers must work closely with technical staff, interviewees noted that they must have strong communication skills. This included the ability to communicate well in writing, in person, and visually, an important skill when working with user experience designers.
Desire to continue learning. Interviewees didn’t expect all technical writing candidates to have every skill necessary for a particular role, but did expect candidates to be open to learning. In a field where technology can quickly change, the ability to learn and adapt is critical.
What tools and content management systems (CMS) should a technical writer understand?
Among the tools and CMS platforms that interviewees felt were good choices for technical writers in 2021 are:
- MadCap Flare
- Adobe Creative Suite
- Solidworks Composer
- Oxygen XML Author
What are the most critical skills a technical writer can learn to prepare themselves for the future?
Interviewees felt that technical writers could prepare for the future by sharpening their skills in several key areas. These include:
Provide real value to users. As systems become more complex, users need more than a standard manual. Increasingly, they need a deeper exploration of how a particular tool or piece of software can fit into their workflow, as well as troubleshooting tips based on real-life examples.
Work with a Scrum team. The Agile workflow is fast becoming one of the most popular processes for building and maintaining technology products. A key component of the Agile system is the Scrum, a team-based approach that involves all decision makers on a particular project. Learning how Scrum teams work can make technical writers more valuable to an organization.
Be adaptable. Technical writing as a field is growing quickly to encompass far more than just user manuals. Technical writers should now be able to augment their text-based work with other platforms, like video, audio, and interactive content. As needs change, the ability to adapt is vital.
Understand documentation “as code.” The days of a definitive printed “manual” are largely over. Now, documentation must evolve and change as quickly as code does. In fact, some technical assistance even lives in the same online home as the code itself. Technical writers need to be able to keep pace with code changes while still explaining complicated terminology to regular people.
2021 brings new opportunities for professional growth and development for technical writers. Incorporating some of these recommendations can help you grow you career and sharpen your skills in the coming year.