Technical Writing attracts women. They’re very good at it and make great team leads.
Maybe I’ve been very lucky but I believe women are far better as technical writers than men.
Here are five areas where I think they have the edge of the guys.
When in entered technical writing, I assumed my days would be spent cranking out user guides on Adobe FrameMaker. Little did I know that a large part of my day would be spend chasing developers for specs, calling testers for bug reports, and working with customers (often non-English) to update the release notes.
Less than 40% of my time is spent writing.
Where does the rest go?
Talking to customers, business analysts, developers, security, and sys admins.
I’m flagging this upfront as one of the big shocks for junior Technical Writers (i.e. gradates) is how little time they may spend writing. Information comes from multiple sources. You, as the technical writer, have to coordinate this information flow and get to know those who supply it.
This is where I feel female technical writers have an edge over their male counterparts.
Most guys want/expect the documents to fall into their laps. The release notes SHOULD be given to them on-time. The reality is that people can be lazy, inefficient or downright dishonest.
So, you sometimes have to go over and haggle with these guys. Sound familiar?
Blokes get very tetchy in these situations.
“You promised it would be ready.”
“Did you read the status report – you’re on it. Where is MY document?”
It can get really intense.
Girls, on the other hand, seem to be more pro-active in these situations. If things are slipping onto it, they start chasing up. And they’ll let you know.
I think most women have a built-in BS detector.
When they get fed a porker (lie) by the developers they can feel it straightaway and start making contingencies.
Guys, naively, believe what they’re told.
They’re ‘optimistic’, which is another way of saying deluded.
2. Doing Interviews
Interviewing is one of the cornerstones of technical writing. You might not think it at first, but the more my career advanced, the more time was spent with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) such as IT Architects, discussing how the application worked.
For many writers this can be an issue.
While the writing may be easy for them, going out and meeting people may not. I know many technical writers who dread workshops, sessions, and group meetings. They don’t like the spotlight and prefer to type away – talking to people isn’t for them.
Maybe that’s why they’re writers. It’s a solitary type of activity.
Most women writers I know don’t have this problem. Not that they are all chatty types, but somehow the interactions, the discussion of ideas, is more suited to them.
Also, men can often get into defensive mode with each other quite quickly. Developers can be quick to offend, especially if another (male) points out some flaw in the design.
For whatever reason, the same observations when made by a women, don’t upset them so much.
Maybe they don’t see women as a direct threat or (my feeling) they are brought up stand their ground with other men but to accommodate the views of women.
I’ve seen many a shouting match between guys in the workplace but I’ve yet to see it with a female colleague. Maybe they scream when they get home…
3. Coping with Stress
Men don’t do well under stress. What happens when things get difficult? When you’re behind schedule or are about to miss a deadline?
You’re holding up the show! Whatta gonna do?
Guys worker harder, faster and more aggressively to get it out. It’s all about speed. Quicker, faster is the mantra. This may work in the short term but it leads to burn-out and, more than likely, breakdown in relations with other team members.
With the girls it tends to be different.
It’s not that they’re not upset or concerned with the looming deadline but the attitude (and plan of action) is different.
Whereas guys will run to the safety of their cubicle, girls will bring the team together and see if (as a team) they can reach the deadline.
Why is this?
I think for men, missing a deadline is an admission of failure.
“You couldn’t do it, could you?”
It’s peer pressure like this that drives them (literally) insane and pushes them to make these kinds of efforts.
Women, in contrast, try to come together.
“How can we fix this?”
There is tension but it rarely deteriorates into slanging matches.
4. Emotional Intelligence & Multi-tasking
I’m grouping these together as they are equally important.
Which do I cut out?
Not sure, so I’m leaving them both in.
Emotional Intelligence relates to the previous points in that to be a successful writer you need writing skills, knowledge of the tools, but also the ability to get others to open up.
There is an element of detective work to technical writing. You’re always trying to dig out information and figure out why other won’t give you certain pieces of information or when they do, it’s late.
The finely-tuned antenna of female technical writers gives them an edge over the boys.
My week as a technical writer involves a range of activities. Writing is only one of my activities.
And, the more my career advances, the less writing I do.
5. Team Spirit & Morale
I’ve been in this game 18 years and, with only one exception, the best technical writers I worked with have been women. I guess I’m referring to team leads here. One of the small things I’ve also noticed is that technical writing depts tended to be a close group.
You didn’t always get that with the developers as they can be an element of completion – who can create the smartest app or write the best code. Lots of jockeying for position and, in an indirect way, looking for peer recognition.
Women read the emotional landscape better than men.
What your take on this?
Have I missed something screamingly obvious?
Do women make better technical writers than men?
PS – By the way, why don’t women go into programming? What’s the attraction of in writing tech docs?