Which of these would you hire to join your Technical Writing Dept? Someone with great writing skills but little technical knowledge or, for example, a Computer Science graduate with deep technical knowledge but average writing skills? We’ve been talking about this on LinkedIn and here are some thoughts.
Why Writing Skills Are More Important
- Technical writing is about writing. Words are the foundation upon which the rest is built.
- If you don’t have the writing skills, then regardless of how well you know the application, you can’t explain how it works.
- Your ability to drill down and describe complex functions may be beyond your grasp.
- To resolve this involves arranging sessions & workshops with developers, IT architects etc, all of which cost time/money.
- If writing skills were not necessary, programmers could write the user guides! Ever see a well-written user guide from a 22-year-old JAVA developer? There are exceptions but…
- Technical writing is about communication. Technical writers are trained to interview people and extract the relevant information. Of course, listening skills are not exclusive to technical writers but many (that I know) feel they grasp the importance of this more than others.
- Writing skills give you the tools to communicate – and to help/teach others to communicate.
FYI – One of the trends I see in Tech Comms, is the changing role of the Technical Writer / Technical Communicator into an educator, facilitator, and becoming the central point of contact for technical information distribution (i.e. technical information coordination).
The counter argument is as follows.
Why Technical Skills Are More Important
- Technical knowledge is the starting point. You need to know how the system works, otherwise all the writing skills in the world may be of little use. If you don’t know what it actually does, what can you begin to write?
- Most ‘non-technical’ technical writers (e.g. graduates with English degrees) waste/take up developers’ time asking questions about how the application works, instead of actually generating content. While there is some leeway here with new technologies, developers have their own deadlines and can’t be expected stop coding to explain the innards to the application.
- Those with technical skills can hit the ground running – it’s the responsibility of the Technical Editor to refine the text.
- Those with technical skills know which questions to ask. As they understand the application/industry/codebase they can ask the hard questions that ‘non technical’ writers would not see in the first place.
Which would you hire?
If you were running a technical writing dept, which type of person would you hire?
A technical writer with strong technical skills, but prone to the occasional typo, or someone with perfect grammar, sound writing skills, but low on technical knowledge?