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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Always Expand Your Knowledge Base

When you're a technical writer, you're an ever expanding knowledge base. You're always learning, or you should keep learning, when you're crafting your prose explaining such and such product or service.

The beauty of being an ever expanding knowledge base is you don't need an advanced degree. But, you need the following:
  • A teachable attitude
  • Good communication skills
  • Be an avid reader

Become an Avid Reader

Read all kinds of things, not just things pertaining to the job. Try reading anything from fantasy, science fiction, and mystery to non-fiction, news and opinion, and inspirational. I'm an avid reader. I read daily. I read more than I write. I write almost daily.

I enjoy expanding my knowledge and imagination and refining or even challenging my thinking or skills. If there's something that catches my eye, I look it up and read about it. Reading helps me become a better writer. I learn from others how to craft sentences. There are times when I will stop writing for a while just to read.

Even if you're well versed with a product line, a programming language, or industry, there's always something new to learn within them. So, try reading about what's going on in the industry and where it's heading. For if there was all there was in an industry, then I suspect there would be nothing further to document. And if there's nothing new to document, then it would be the end of technical writing.

I find being an avid reader really helps me recall or connect data points in my head when a pertinent conversation or situation arises.

(Though I don't actively read about technology or programming languages unless it's for a job, reading such works can be helpful because you become aware of possible things to write about.)

Hone Your Communication Skills

To be an ever expanding knowledge base, you need to hone in on good communication skills. These skills will actually help you grow as a technical writer. If you talk with an Subject Matter Expert (SME), you can learn a lot. You have to learn good deal about the thing you are documenting before you can document it. If you need to document similar products and services and uses the same terminology, you can just move forward with writing about them because you already talk to the SME. (Of course, you should still keep in contact with SMEs to make sure your knowledge is up-to-date.)

When I've interviewed SMEs, I get educated. I get both the big picture about the subject at hand and the details about it.

Taking notes down also reinforces what I learned from an interview. (When possible, I recommend taking notes by hand than by computer or device. Some have suggested writing notes by hand is far better than doing this digitally.)

Asking the right questions, taking good notes, and a listening ear will develop your technical writing skills. So how you can hone in your communication skills? The first and crucial step is learn how to listen. Practice active listening.

Have A Teachable Attitude

Finally, you must have a teachable attitude. You can't learn something if you're not willing to learn, even it runs counters to what you know and believe. You need to humble and realize you don't have all the answers. You also have to be willing to be okay with the possibility the answers you have already might be wrong. A teachable attitude will help you adapt to new situation. This will keep your technical writing alive and active.

A teachable attitude is the key to become an ever expanding knowledge base.

Adhere to a New Adage 

While technical writer doesn't contradict the famous adage:

"Write what you know".  

we need another adage that aptly captures this strange form of writing. It should be something like:

"Before you know what to write, go find out what it is first."

Keep Your Technical Writing Alive

By being an ever expanding knowledge base, it keeps your technical writing fresh and dynamic. For me, there's rarely a dull moment in creating documents. The very nature of technical writing is open-ended and expanding. This makes it a great career path because you can grow with it.

In my earlier days of technical writing, I came up with a mantra and it's one I still use to guide my craft. It's this:
The learning never stops; you just choose to stop learning.
 When you stop learning, your technical writing will start dying.

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