You can search online for technical writer qualities–clear, concise writing, quickly understand concepts, strong interpersonal skills–but those will only get you through the door. You still need to deliver results. A helpful trick to be an outstanding technical writer is to work smarter, not harder. This article will discuss the techniques and benefits of using guides provided by a client and creating your guides while working on technical communication projects. (If you don’t want to search online for technical writer qualities, see the end of the document.)

Use the guides and templates provided by the client

Most clients will have their brand guides, style guides, and templates. It would be best if you used your initial project ramp-up time to become familiar with any guides and templates. You will need to know where to find them and how often they are updated. Usually, they are not updated too often, but you will need to make sure you have the most recent versions. Knowing the guides and having them up to date helps avoid rework.

Brand and style guides

Read any provided guides and ask any questions you may have. Compile the pages that you may need to reference frequently in a separate document. Organize your compact guide so that it is relevant to you–page order, bookmarks, highlighting. Once compiled, place it in a convenient location.
Outside the Box Use your monitor’s background as a quick reference for essential information. Create an image of helpful information, company color codes, acceptable fonts, registration, trademark lists, etc., and set it as your background.

Templates

Some companies have templates for everything–from executive PowerPoint presentations to memos. Acquaint yourself with the templates you will work with and when they should be used. For example, there may be separate templates for internal versus external presentations. While they may look similar, there will be critical aspects on one or all of the slides that help protect company information.
When it comes to templates for documentation, use the styles that are in the document. However, a new style may be needed for one reason or another. When you add to the base template, make sure the style aligns with the rest of the document, including indents, tab stops, and line spacing. Once you have the types you need in a document, that document should be the one you use as the template from then on–don’t go back to the original template unless you imported the new styles. When you start a document that you know has all the correct styles, you avoid reinventing the wheel.
Outside the Box When working with PowerPoint presentations, slides that were initially internal-only may be used in an external presentation when the information is allowed to go public. Always build presentations with this fact in mind, so these internal slides that will eventually be external, are created and formatted in a way that is acceptable for external use.

Create your guides

If a company doesn’t have its guides, a project has specific requirements, or there is just a lot to remember, create your guides and job aids. No doubt you will be taking a lot of notes as you work. Compiling them in a single document or folder will help you locate the information you need when you need it. You also don’t need to start from scratch to create your guides; you can search the internet for a starting point and then adapt as needed. Creating guides helps you and helps any team members get up to speed on a project quickly.

Style guide

Creating your style guide is especially helpful when creating multiple related documents that have similar structures and content. You can list the required sections for a document and describe how to handle differences between them. Create lists of standardized text, phrases, and formatting to keep the documents consistent.

Quality control guide

If you make no other guides, create a quality control (QC) guide or checklist. As you work, you will notice common mistakes and, while you are trying to keep an eye out for them, you will miss some. By listing them in a QC guide, you will remember to look for or to use the search option, when possible, to find any mistakes. Be sure to include a list of words that are spelled correctly but are not the right word. Some may include:
• plot – pilot
• manger – manager
• flies – files
• filed – field
• too – to
• form – from
Your QC guide can also include common formatting errors or a client’s formatting preferences. For instance, making sure a heading stays with the content that follows, that the last word in a sentence is not on a new line by itself, or that a table row does not break across a page.
Outside the Box Use the search and replace it with a formatting option to highlight punctuation marks and make potential errors more visible. Highlight all the periods in a document to find paragraphs that are missing periods, bullet points with inconsistent punctuation and structure, and even find long sentences.

Process documents

Create process documents for your own work needs, especially for tasks you don’t often do. These don’t necessarily need to live up to the standards of your client deliverables–sticky notes are handy for short processes or reminders–as long as you can access and digest the information in a reasonable amount of time, they are worth the effort to create.
Conclusion
Whether you are using guides provided to you or created by you, they allow you to focus on gathering and organizing content and, ultimately, creating quality documentation rather than general aspects of the project. At Radiant, these are just a few techniques our technical writers use daily. Contact Radiant for your technical communication needs and let us show you how our internal commitment to quality is reflected in our product delivery.

TECHNICAL WRITER QUALITIES

A Technical Writer Should:
• Have an eye for detail
• Be able to see the big picture and focus on the details
• Ask questions (even if they are “dumb”)
• Accept criticism
• Push back, but be flexible
• Avoid overthinking
• Know how to find information
• Solve problems traditionally and creatively

BENEFITS OF A TECHNICAL WRITER

A Technical Writer Can:
• Provide an outside perspective
– Identify any overlooked or extraneous information
– Help consider different approaches
• Understand multiple perspectives and adjust documentation accordingly
– Internal versus external
– Marketing versus process
• Provide experience in a variety of document types and industries
• Work independently and within a schedule and budget