How do we develop those skills?

Starting out

The skill set of a technical communicator starting out is obviously under development and may be weak in some areas. If they are willing to learn on the job, they can work with a mentor, who will advise and direct them to help develop their skills as they work. Short courses can also provide an in-depth understanding very quickly in specific areas. Joining organisations such as TechCommNZ or the US Society for Technical Communication (STC) can also provide valuable resources and contacts.

Moving into more senior positions

Technical communicators in senior positions require additional skills and knowledge, which can also be learned on the job. Beyond those listed above, they need to develop the following:

  • experience and proven success in a variety of complex projects
  • excellent people skills
  • design skills - structure and layout
  • ability to see both the big and the small picture
  • assessing and meeting client requirements
  • project management skills:
    • estimating
    • budgeting
    • organising and managing resources
    • time management
    • project co-ordination and control
    • handling people
    • production management
    • quality assurance
    • ability to research and accommodate new technologies as they apply to software and the documentation development process and delivery mechanisms.

Exploring new domains

The technical communicator, taking a user-centred approach in their role as a user advocate, is in a prime position to extend their sphere of activity into other areas.
The issue of usability has always been part of our field of endeavour, but in recent times the concept has become more significant in other fields, particularly in the area of software design.

Technical communication is about making sure people understand what they are doing and how to do it. To achieve that understanding, technical communicators have had to ensure that they know their audience - who they are, how they function, what tasks they perform, how they go about those tasks, what influences them in their activities - in exactly the same way as a usability specialist does. Technical communicators also need to understand the products and business applications they are documenting and often become the first users.

With a detailed understanding of products, processes, applications, and users, technical communicators are in position to take a significant role in the design process. In the computer software field, a specific example of this is in user interface design.