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Technical Communicator: A Newbie Analysis
2014, Q2 (April 01, 2014)
By Erica Brooks

What is an effective communicator?

According to the STC, in our field of Technical Communications, being an effective communicator means taking a user-centered approach to providing the right information, the right way, at the right time. It's making the information we produce usable and accessible to people who need it by any means necessary.

As a newbie in the field, I have produced a list of what I think makes an effective technical communicator:

  • Be Visible.
    Tell the story. Be the Storyteller of the information. Take the user through a journey by transforming the information into a visual masterpiece. This can all be achieved through design. Design is what we live for Give the use experience of the data by incorporating elements like images, diagrams, tables, charts, etc. and make them come alive.
    It is our jobs as technical communicators to make sure we help the users of our information make sense of it all.

  • Make the Complex, Simple.
    Simple can be harder than complex: "You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains." -- Steve Jobs
    This quote pretty much sums it all up, especially the last sentence. It is our jobs as technical communicators to make sure we help the users of our information make sense of it all. We can make the information clean, and give it flow, so that a lay person can understand. It has to be an awesome feeling knowing that at the end of a project we have made life so much easier for the persons utilizing our documents.

  • Know your audience.
    Who am I writing for? This should be the first question you ask yourself. It's like going on a road trip. If you jump in the car and have no clue where you are going, you have wasted gas, time, and energy. Same thing with writing, wasted time, energy, and cups of coffee (maybe not the coffee). If you know who will be reading or using your documents, then it will definitely make the project a lot easier.

  • Wear many hats.
    Writing and designing documentation is just one of the many hats that technical communicators wear. We must also be able to interview and gather information from subject matter experts (SMEs), be knowledgeable of the industries we work in, and be versed in the many tools used to create our documents. Depending the area you work and specialize, I am sure there is much more.

  • Have a sense of humor.
    A good laugh has never hurt anyone. When it gets hectic and crazy, you have to try to find a little bit of humor in the chaos. Yes, there are the deadlines and the "other" people breathing down your neck about having and needing this and that. Team members are losing their minds about finishing the project, but in the mist of the document storm, find a happy place.

I'm sure there is more that could be added to my list. As I breakout and make a transition into the arena, I don't doubt that I will learn much of what it really takes to be an effective technical communicator.

Erica can be reached at justwriteforit at gmail dot com. End of article.

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