Some may get chills at the mere thought of being a Technical Writer/ Technical Communicator. In some cases, they may even quickly run in the other direction. It’s safe to say that being a great Technical Writer or a Technical Communicator isn’t for everyone. On the outside looking in, some might actually think that being a Technical Writer involves a lot of tedious, boring, and extremely exhausting reading. I’d find this to be somewhat true if the Technical Writer is disorganized, lacked patience, or was unsure on how to begin the task at hand. In worst cases, I’d say they had absolutely no clue about the Principles of Information Architecture.
In my eyes, Information Architecture (IA) embodies the most important principles and rules surrounding the duty of being a great Technical Writer. Some of the most important Principles of IA are those written by Caroline M. Stern (Advancing Your Information Architecture Skills, Intercom, 2005), where she puts a huge emphasis on practicing audience awareness, clear and concise organization, and purposeful development within the Technical Communication field. The three-page document goes on to further explain other important methods on making IA a skill set that becomes permanently etched in every aspect of being a Technical Writer or Technical Communicator.
Having great organization skills as a Technical Writer (in my opinion), is eerily similar to the way Michael Jordan had the mindset to go out and play to win every basketball game. To win, you need to have confidence, and to have confidence you have to understand the game. Though Technical Writing isn’t a game, it inherits the practice, and mental exercises required in order to play and win any game.
The makeup of IA simply gives you the ability to take huge mounds of documents and data, then organize that data in a way that is communicated effectively, handled consistently, and stored/ managed thereafter. By being effective, you will have given the client or company a way to retrieve, and or edit the newly organized data. By providing consistency, the client can now be more confident in knowing that the information needed is being properly stored and can be easily obtained on demand.
All technical data, once created, have an expiration date. By expiration, I do not mean for the technical data to be of no use, but for that technical data to be reviewed or updated on an annual, bi-annual, quarterly or sometimes monthly basis. The existing data, if it has changed, should then be formally discussed with leadership, and upon agreeance, archived and or housed in accordance to the clients archiving or data storage procedure(s).
No matter the practice area, technical data and technical communications seem to change too often. This isn’t because of poor organization on the Technical Writer’s behalf, but is a direct result and example of change. This is something you should always expect and assume when creating, editing or updating technical data or technical communications. There is no real way to be prepared for the ever-changing world of technology, but having an organized and well thought out strategy on how to handle the documentation or data can be very helpful.
As you can see, the Technical Writer is a very important piece of the Technical Communications puzzle. Technical Writers must be great organizers in order to compete in today’s market of ever-changing technology. There are tons of resources available on the World Wide Web that allow Technical Writers and Technical Communicators to stay fresh and exercise their organization skills. One of many websites that will further allow these elite individuals to compete and stay fresh is www.jeronline.com. This website has over 1,000 online courses, with over 250 subject areas. At least 50-70 of those courses provide direct training and refresher courses which provide Technical Writers and Technical Communicators with a sure way to stay ahead of the curve.
To conclude, Technical Communications is a field for a very specific individual. One who likes to make organizing a habit and make the principles of Information Architecture a meaningful part of their daily work ritual. There are no other exceptions for being great in this field of work if organization isn’t the motive.
So, the next time you have the pleasure of meeting, greeting, or working with a Technical Writer or Technical Communicator, be sure to hand them all of the most technical and disorganized data you can find. These folks take great pride in using those awesome IA principles, which will slowly but surely get you back on track, and give them a chance to keep their skills fresh.
* Advancing Your Information Architecture Skills, Caroline M. Stern (Intercom, March 2005)
* JER Group Inc., www.jeronlinecom