The Mother of all Engineering Feats

Related imageBritish scientists were able to create human embryos with genetic material from one man and two women. The goal is to produce genetically altered “designer” babies and thereby eliminate hereditary diseases by combining the best bits of each person. It’s a controversial idea, but if saves lives and improves health, I’m all for it. Plus, you’d get to tell all your friends you have three parents – how cool is that?

Just as people have genetic strengths and weaknesses, so do technical communicators have strengths and weaknesses in their profession. Strengths in technical communicators include:

  • being friendly and outgoing
  • able to work quietly in solitude
  • able to work with a wide variety of people
  • able to work with like-minded people
  • a solid language background
  • a solid technical background
  • excellent written communication skills
  • excellent oral communication skills
  • able to see “the big picture”
  • an eye for detail
  • able to work in chaos
  • are comfortable with routine
  • able to follow existing standards
  • able to create new standards
  • able to view information textually
  • able to view information graphically
  • valuing simplicity over complexity
  • valuing completeness over simplicity
  • enjoy starting new projects
  • enjoy updating existing projects
  • able to work well with WYISWYG tools
  • able to work well with non-WYISWYG tools

As should be obvious, no single technical writer could possibly have all these strengths, because many of them contradict each other. The best documentation teams, therefore, have a good mix of writers from a variety of backgrounds.

I was once asked in a job interview this intriguing question:
Who would make the better technical writer?
a) Someone who studied language and writing, and then later learned technical skills
b) Someone who studied technical information, and then later learned language and writing?

The short answer is – we can’t know. The longer answer is: it depends what you mean by “better technical writer”. Either person may match the requirements of a particular job, and it is impossible to know from these brief descriptions who is the more apt candidate.

For example, I remember looking through medical textbooks a few years ago. They contain detailed pictures of human anatomy. Only two types of technical communicators could have created these images:

a) a graphic artist who learned anatomy
b) a medical person who learned art

There is no way to tell by looking at the illustrations which of these two communicators were responsible.

You can never be all things to all companies. You cannot be “the perfect writer”, however, you can be perfect for a particular job. You have a complex set of skills and traits – you “tech comm DNA”. Know your DNA, and you will know where you should be and what should be doing.