On the occasions I have been a candidate for a technical writing position, particularly with “big companies” (that shall go nameless here), I have been confronted with a lot of questions regarding my philosophy of technical communication. In one instance I was interviewed by no less than nine individuals, many of whom asked identical or similar questions regarding my “beliefs.”
Whether I ultimately landed such positions or not, because it forced me to articulate my thoughts and opinions on what a “technical writer” should be and do. (I could always point them to my blog and the content of Writing Operating Procedures, but they invariably prefer a more immediate response.) I can summarize the focus: what do you as a technical writer contribute (or expect to contribute) to organizational success?
Any technical writer, or a practitioner of any specialty, should be ready to easily and confidently answer that question. Barry Saiff, of Saiff Solutions, a technical writing service organization in the Philippines, addressed this question on his blog, which I have linked here. I became aware of it through a LinkedIn group.
The article does an excellent job of summarizing what a “good” technical writer does, and it’s worth a read. I can boil the focus (mine, not necessarily Mr. Saiff’s) of the answer to one word, which Mr. Saiff uses twice in his post: customer.
Technical writing is a customer service occupation. The technical writer’s sole focus–and it in reality should be the focus of anyone in any occupation or position–is on delivering to the customer exactly what they need, when they need it, in a form that facilitates their successful use of the product being described.
Most of us in the field can write. We have mastered the art of penning thousands upon thousands of words to describe something, press an argument, inform someone, or whatever was needed to achieve the grade in that class (when our grades were our customers!). That is actually the easy part. The hard part is to place ourselves in our customers’ shoes and write for their benefit. Achieving that is a much more difficult process, one that I find myself having to continue to improve upon.
I guess I can summarize my thoughts on the matter as: am I writing primarily for my customers or my ego? The latter is so easy, since so many around us are quick to praise our efforts because I have spared them the task of doing the writing. But it’s the former that will ultimately dictate my usefulness to whatever community I belong to.