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5 Ways To Differentiate Yourself as a Technical Writer


Feeling ignored? What’s that? No pay respects the hard work you do as a tech writer.

Sad, isn’t it? Very sad…

Ever wonder why?

Ever wonder what you need to do about it? Hmmm?

Tom Peters says, “the value of services will continue to fall” and that the only way to survive is to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Is this true?

How do you as a technical writer make yourself stand out from the crowd? If you don’t, what impact could this have on your career?

How to Differentiate Yourself as a Technical Writer

Here are five suggestions to do this:

  1. Video Blogging – use your Camtasia skills to create videos that show how products work. Cisco is doing a great job in this area. They gave flip cameras to the IT people and encouraged them to make short, snappy videos that show how to use their hardware, networks, and systems. Which would you prefer? To read 20 pages or watch a 3 minute video?
  2. Screencasting Training – now that you know how to make the videos, why not use this to teach others to do this same. Position yourself as a screen-casting expert, setup the blog, get involved, and show others how this works. FWIW there is a very active video marketing group on LinkedIn ( that you may want to join.
  3. Web-based Training – if you’ve spent years writing guides, you must have developed an in-depth knowledge of 2 or 3 fields. See which of these are most in demand (Google searches and forums will be a starting point) and then develop training modules that you can present online. does a great job in offering training over the web. Sign up with them and see how it works.
  4. Social Media Writing – you know how to write, right? Well, most people don’t. As Social Media continues to explode leverage your writing skills and show (“the benefit o f communicating well on Facebook is…”) others how to get their message across on these Social Network.
  5. Business English – the upside of all these jobs getting shipped to India, China, Brazil is that their Management teams want to do more business in the west. How can you help them write better reports, communicate more clearly, protect them from being misunderstood – you get the idea!

These are just five ways you can stand out from the crowd and position yourself as a specialist. My suggestion is to look at who is doing this right, e.g. Debbie Weil, and study them diligently. Then develop an action plan and start getting the rewards you deserve.

What other careers can you think of? Is it possible to differentiate yourself as a Technical Writer? How would you do it?

PS: Tom Peters is here: Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution

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How To Get More Traffic To Your Technical Writing Blog

To quote Van Halen, ‘everybody wants some.’ And what you want is traffic. Why write a blog if no-one visits, right? I have 17 technical writers’ blogs in my Google Reader & RSS feeds. Most are fine but… if they used some of the following tactics, they’d get more traffic, comments, money and Nobel prizes. Well, three out of four, anyway.

How To Get More Traffic To Your Technical Writing Blog

Apply five of these tactics and your traffic will double. No kidding, it will!

How To Get More Traffic #1: Add Your Photos

Look at your favorite technical writing blogs. How many faces do you see? Why are they all hiding? I dunno. Stick your mugshot on the page so we can see what you look like! Go on! None of us are Brad Pitt or Paris Hilton, so add a picture. Don’t be shy. People like to read about people they know. If they can’t see you…

How To Get More Traffic #2: Video

I’m no spring chicken, so if I can do it, you can. All of these video were taken on a Canon powershot.

Videos let people hear you, see your expression, feel what you’re trying to say in ways that words cannot. Making videos is easier that you think. I use Camtasia 6 for all its sins. (read my frustrated Camtasia 6 review here.)

How To Get More Traffic #3: Social Media Outposts

Use Social Media for maximum impact. With web content publishing tools like Posterous you can get the message out to all these channels with almost no effort. Posterous lets you post once, publish everywhere. Try it.

How To Get More Traffic #4: Quizzes

We all get tired of checking for split infinitives and looking for typos, so lighten things up. Add quizzes to get people involved… and try to be a little different.

  • Did you ever download software illegally?
  • What’s your manager’s most annoying habit?
  • Would you let your boss friend you on Facebook?
  • Do you know any technical writing who can reverse park? (I was going to say Women but then turned on my brain! That was so close!)
  • Do you know any men who ask for directions when lost? One for the girls, no doubt.

How To Get More Traffic #5: Comics

May not work for all sites but comics are a nice break from technical documents and other heavy reading. Why do you think they are so popular? Every serious newspaper has them, why not you?

How To Get More Traffic #6: Reviews

If they come to your site, it’s your opinion they are after. So, why don’t you give it?

#1 cardinal sin of most blogs is that they have no opinion!

Don’t be scared! I’m with you! Give your honest opinion (try not to rant or swear) and you’ll see people will respond very quickly.

#2 cardinal sin of most blogs… bland!

If your blog echoes the rest of the crowd, well, why should I come back? Stick your neck out, even a little. Some people were upset that I dissed Camtasia but y’know I’d be lying if I said it worked!

How To Get More Traffic #7: Trends

Pssst! Did you know that… everyone wants to be in the know. Keep your readers up to date. Use graphs, charts and diagrams. See Brain Solis and Information in Beautiful for inspiration.

How To Get More Traffic #8: Lists

It doesn’t have to stop at 10. Here are a few list of get started:

  • 21 Left Handed Technical Writers
  • 7 Reasons Why Adobe FrameMaker Sucks But You Still Need to Buy It
  • 12 Honest Ways to Get a Pay Rise
  • 5 Ways To Give An Honest Appraisal
  • 28 Ways to Proofred a Technical Documant
  • 1 Good Reason to Join the STC
  • 18 Mistakes Technical Writers Make Before Breakfast
  • 9 Ways to Evaluate a Help Authoring Tool

How To Get More Traffic #9: How-to guides

Ok, the technical stuff comes last. If you’re going to offer technical advice (and you should!) identify the problem, explain how to fix it, and then ask for questions or comments.

#3 cardinal sin of blogging is… blogger doesn’t interact with readers. Ask for comments. If you have a Facebook page, give them the link and connect there. Use Twitter? Create lists for technical writers and add them. Like these lists I created for technical writers and creativity.

Share, share, share!

What ya think! Fire away below.

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How Social Media Will Make You A Better Technical Writer

twitterGina Blednyh launched the Technical Communication 2.0 group in Facebook in 2009. It explores the interplay between Web 2.0 and technical communication. It’s a terrific place to exchange ideas about collaborative technologies and new approaches to delivering information.

In this interview, I ask her how Technical Writers can use Social Media and the types of content they are likely to deliver.

How Social Media Will Make You A Better Technical Writer

Ivan: Could you tell us about how you got started in technical writing?

Gina: I majored in English, but prior to that I worked for a software company. The field just seemed like an excellent fit for me.

Ivan: You’ve setup a new group for technical writers on Facebook. Could you tell us about this group? How does it differ from a BBS, for example?

Gina: Truthfully, I never participated in a BBS, though I used to lurk. For me, one of the primary differences is the openness and ease of use of a Facebook group–it’s not “just for geeks.”

Since I just began the Technical Communication 2.0 group recently, I’m not sure yet if it’s the best way to go. For example, perhaps a group on another social networking site would be more effective. But we’ve had some good discussions already and people are posting useful information.

Ivan: Brian Solis recently said that Social Media will soon become Media. It will no longer be seen as a fad. What impact will Social Media have on how technical writer work?
Gina: Wow–this is a big question! And folks far more knowledgeable than me can provide a better answer. My take is that we technical writers might need to abandon certain ideas of who participates in developing good documentation.

We might also need to expand our ideas of where technical documentation resides.  For example, a community centered around a product might include documentation, conversations between users, and feedback (positive and negative) from these users about the documentation. I don’t see this as “bad” for technical writers, however.

If a community includes both positive and negative comments and is well managed, the result can be more customer satisfaction and far better material. I don’t believe that traditional Help systems and documentation will go away entirely, though.

Ivan: What other technical writers inspire you or help give direction to the way you work?

Gina: I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful writers and mentors! The ones who inspire me actively engage with the profession but also think about opportunities outside of it.

They embrace change and think about ways that technical communicators can better partner with other departments. Basically, they look forward and don’t waste time reminiscing about how things were done “back in the day.”

Ivan: Looking into your crystal ball, how do you see technical writing changing in the next five years?

Gina: Oy Vey! Another big question! I do see technical communicators producing more videos. And in general, I think that we will need to embrace the “technical” part of our job titles more than ever. Offering specialized knowledge will likely be an important quality to offer employers.

Technical Communication 2.0

You can find Gina in the Technical Communication 2.0 group in Facebook.

Your Thoughts?

What do you think? Does Social Media pose a threat to the future of technical writers or can we use it to our advantage? Share your thoughts below.

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How Advertising in User Guides Could Work

Putting advertising in user guides may seem rather flaky at first, but it could work. Here’s why. One of my ‘pet projects’ is to connect the lines between Sales and Technical Documentation. To me, they both serve the same purpose. Serve the customer. While they both start at different points, the end goal is the same. Unfortunately, these two departments rarely work together. Let’s take a look at how we can fix this. Continue reading How Advertising in User Guides Could Work

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Should I Join the STC?

Society for Technical CommunicationBen Minson makes some interesting points about the role of the STC (Society for Technical Communication) and the value it offers to its members.

As an ‘outsider’ looking in, I have to confess to finding the STC a rather odd organization. A longer post is probably in order to discuss this. Continue reading Should I Join the STC?

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Top 50 Technical Writers on the Web

I’ve made a list of the top 50 technical writers with a web presence. Some of these you might know, such as Darren Barefoot and Tom Johnson. I have also added some other writers from India, Russia and Israel to reach out to a wider audience. I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed. Let me know and I’ll update the list.

This week’s new additions include Alan Houser, Char James-Tanny, Cheryl Locket-Zubak , Colum McAndrew, Joe Welinske, Michael Hughes, and Paul Mueller.

Continue reading Top 50 Technical Writers on the Web