10 Most Important Skills of a Technical Communicator

Posted by
Julia in Technical Communication on 8/25/20217 min read

woman in red and white shirt smiling

What Is Technical Communication and Who Is a Technical Communicator?

The definition of technical communication is the following: it is a type of communication that is aimed at providing readers with clear and accurate information on how to use and maintain products, complete tasks, operate equipment, etc. It is a means of conveying technical information in various spheres: engineering, software development, medical sphere, aerospace, robotics, and many other fields. The essence of technical communication is delivering consistent, clear, concise, unambiguous, and reliable information.

Who is the person that helps readers get the information they need? - A technical communicator - a person who learns a product, mechanism, or service and explains it to readers. These are technical writers and editors, technical illustrators, information architects, UX writers, information designers, and many other experts. The jobs may have different names, but these are all technical communicators, though they look at technical communication from a bit different angles.

What Do Technical Communicators Do?

In general, technical communicators are like interpreters: they interpret complex technical information into understandable materials. When they describe a product or mechanism, they gather a lot of data to understand how everything works, define the potential pains of users, find the best ways of solving problems, and many more things. They get in touch with SMEs to make sure they understand everything.

A techcomm specialist is always a teacher at heart as they explain things to readers. The most difficult thing is to find the best way of explaining. That’s why technical communicators always define their audience. Different types of information are meant for different audiences with different levels of knowledge. Experts expect to get deeper information, they don’t need excess explanations. The situation is different with non-technical audiences - tech communicators are to explain everything that might be unclear.

Technical communicators use additional means of explaining things. These are screenshots, diagrams, videos, screencasts, graphs, tables, technical illustrations, etc. They help to make the information clear and contribute to the consistency of technical documentation. We have a set of posts that can elaborate on the use of additional materials:

man in red smiling

What Skills Are Necessary for a Technical Communicator?

It is not difficult to enter the technical communication sphere, but not everyone will enjoy this type of occupation as it requires special skills and traits of character. Let’s figure out which skills a technical communicator must develop and which traits of character will help them be successful in this sphere.

Writing Skills

No doubt, written communication is the biggest part of a technical communicator’s work. The ability to create clear and accurate documentation is highly appreciated. This skill should never be overlooked. A technical communicator should be able to write understandable texts for all types of audiences: experts and non-experts. The best way to check if readers understand your manuals is to give your text to someone who doesn’t know what you are writing about and ask if it is clear for them how to use a product or mechanism, how to fix it, etc.

Technical Skills

Technical skills mean a lot as well. The set of technical skills depends on the industry you are writing for, subject matter, product, service, etc. Those who work in the IT sector should know coding. At least the basics. They should be able to understand how a software product works to tell users how to interact with it. The same can be said about any other industry. Each of them has specific requirements: engineering, pharmaceutical industry, governmental technical communication - they all have different standards. That’s why a tech communicator’s background means a lot.

Oral Communication

Technical communicators not only write manuals and instructions, but they may also tell the audience about a product or service. Shooting videos and blogging are highly popular today. Many companies organize webinars. A technical communicator should be ready for that as well.

Another reason why oral communication skills matter is that tech communicators are to interview subject-matter experts (SMEs) to collect relevant information. Interviewing an SME shouldn’t take much time but it should be very efficient. Read our post to learn more - How to Hold an Interview with SMEs.

Software Tools

There are a lot of tools to write technical documentation. Small companies with only one technical communicator often use MS Word, and it allows them to cope with their writing workflow. But companies tend to grow, and their workflow is getting more complex. They need special tools for writing - help authoring tools or technical writing tools, like ClickHelp, for example. They offer a comprehensive environment for the collaboration of a techcomm team. You will hardly see a team that doesn’t use a tech writing tool. And, if you know how to use at least a couple of them, that is your advantage.

Apart from that, a technical communicator should know how to use additional tools as technical communication is not only writing content, it is creating explanatory materials. The choice depends on the product, requirements, and audience. Here is the list:

  • Screencasting tools
  • Video tools
  • Diagramming tools
  • Wireframing tools
  • etc.

Computer Languages

As was mentioned above, it is not a must-have skill, but those technical communicators who work in software companies must know at least the basics of coding to be able to understand how things work. Of course, the level of knowledge depends on the company, types of technical documentation, audience, and many other factors. The most popular computer languages are Python, JavaScript, Java, C#, C, C++, Go, R, Swift, PHP. Have a look at our post - Software Documentation: Should You Learn Coding?

Scientific Knowledge

Scientific knowledge is an optional thing as well. If you want to become a scientific communicator, you are to have a scientific background. A wide range of industries requires scientific communication: biotechnical, medical and biomedical, pharmaceutical, environmental, chemical, etc. That’s a separate field of technical communication; it has special types of technical documents and standards.

Problem-Solving Skills

First of all, a technical communicator is to find out potential problems and pains of users and tell them how to solve things like that. It is not that easy. A technical communicator is to look at the product the way a user will look. To define what might be difficult for the audience, one should identify who the users are and their background, including their level of knowledge. There may be several ways of solving a problem. A technical communicator must analyze all of them and choose the best one for users.

Self-Learning

The sphere of technical communication is constantly changing, and technical writers need to gain new skills and refresh the old ones all the time. Today there are so many resources for self-learning: courses, books, ebooks, technical communities, webinars, workshops, etc. It is highly important not to stop learning when you become an expert as it is very easy to lose this position.

Business Correspondence

Business correspondence is a means of communication with teammates and partners outside your team. It is a useful skill to know how to establish relations by means of emailing. As was mentioned above, it may be one of the channels of communication with SMEs, for example. Not everything can be discussed during an interview. Some information is perceived better in the written form.

Personality Traits

Personality traits mean a lot when we talk about any occupation, and technical writing is no exception. Here is the list of traits of character that will definitely help you become a successful technical communicator:

  • Curiosity. You’ll have to collect a lot of information.
  • Ability to work on several tasks or projects. Yes, that happens. Multitasking is a common thing nowadays. You need to be able to switch between them very quickly and plan your time to cope with everything.
  • Ability to cope with procrastination. No one can be productive 24/7. Procrastination may happen to anyone. But if you know how to cope with it, it won’t affect your work. Read our post - 5 Ways to Stop Procrastinating to succeed in it.
  • Ability to stay calm. Technical communication only seems to be a non-stressful occupation. Deadlines and urgent tasks may cause stress. So, a technical communicator, as anyone else, should know how to stay calm in any situation.

man jumping in the middle of the street

Conclusion

To become a successful technical communicator, you need a set of skills. It is not just an ability to communicate, it is your background that allows you to understand and explain things. Personal characteristics mean a lot as well. They help to fit in this occupation. If you don’t possess the above mentioned skills, you can develop them. But personal characteristics are something that is given to us by nature. If you are not patient enough to be a technical communicator, you can surely become a great expert in some other field.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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