New Technical Writer: Conquering the Fear of Writing

Feb 15


Barry Millman, Ph.D.

Barry Millman, Ph.D.

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Stepping into the role of a technical writer can be daunting, especially for those without a writing background. The task of creating User Documentation for a new product might stir up fear and anxiety, reminiscent of school days filled with writer's block and critical evaluations. However, writing for a user manual is a unique process that differs significantly from academic writing. This article aims to guide new technical writers through the process, providing strategies to overcome anxieties and produce effective documentation. With the right approach and resources, anyone can craft clear and helpful user guides.

Understanding the Nature of User Documentation

User Documentation is a distinct genre of writing that serves a practical purpose: to help users understand and effectively use a product. Unlike creative writing or argumentative essays,New Technical Writer: Conquering the Fear of Writing Articles it requires a straightforward and user-focused approach.

What You're Not Writing

  • A Novel: Forget about crafting a narrative with complex characters and plot twists. User Documentation is about clarity and utility, not storytelling.
  • An Argument: There's no need to persuade or present a thesis. Your goal is to inform, not to debate.
  • A Lab Report: While lab reports have a rigid structure, User Documentation allows for more flexibility and focuses on the user's needs.

Your School-Writing Experiences

In school, writing was often about impressing a teacher with grammatical precision and adherence to a specific format. In contrast, User Documentation is a team effort where everyone, including your editor, is working towards the success of the product.

Structuring Your Writing for Ease

The structure of User Documentation mirrors the interaction between the user and the product. By breaking down the document into components, each addressing a specific topic, you can avoid writer's block. This modular approach simplifies the writing process to filling in the blanks, making it less daunting for new writers.

Essential Resources for Success

Your success as a technical writer depends on the support and resources provided by your employer or project lead. These include:

  • Editor: An editor is a collaborator who can assist with wording and grammar, helping you refine the document.
  • Access to Information: You should have access to product developers, product mockups, marketing information, and industry knowledge.
  • Time and Physical Resources: Adequate time and the right tools are crucial. Familiarize yourself with your word processor's capabilities, such as creating PDF or HTML files.
  • Training/Guidance: Consider online courses or resources that offer support through the writing process.

Adopting a Writing Method

Rather than writing the entire document in one go, focus on creating and reviewing individual components. This iterative process allows for early feedback and reduces stress, leading to a more polished final product.

Dealing with Reviews

Feedback is an opportunity for improvement, not a personal critique. Stay open to suggestions and focus on correcting inaccuracies to enhance the quality of your writing.

Final Tips for New Technical Writers

  • Embrace Imperfection: Aim for clarity and usefulness, not perfection.
  • Read Widely: Analyze other User Documents, especially those related to your product, to learn effective writing techniques.

First Steps for New Technical Writers

Before diving into writing, gather as much information as possible about the product, its users, and the environment it operates in. This foundational knowledge will inform your writing and ensure that your User Documentation is relevant and helpful.

By understanding the unique nature of User Documentation and utilizing the right resources and methods, new technical writers can overcome their fears and produce valuable content for users. Remember, the goal is to facilitate the user's experience with the product, and with practice, writing technical documentation can become a rewarding and manageable task.