New Communications Skills?

Subject: New Communications Skills?
From: Edwin Putkonen <eputkonen -at- BIX -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1993 19:15:00 -0500

I generally believe that writing skills are relatively more
important than technical skills for most technical writing
jobs. A good technical writer understands how to study the
technical aspects of a process or product in terms of how a
user will use it. This requires a different perspective and
skill set than developing technical mastery. Technical writers
will then use their developed communication skills to present
technical processes and procedures in ways that are
understandable to the target group of users.

In certain situations, mastery of specific technical
skills/subjects is important for a writer. This is
particularly true if the writer is working on products that
will be used by advanced users in a specific market niche. For
example, if one is to write a reference manual for a compiler,
the writer should have some well developed
programming/software development knowledge and skills.

That said, however, I no longer think excellent writing skills
will be a guarantee for success for those technical
communicators wishing to maintain a career in today's world.

Product-design is evolving toward a more customer-oriented
design process. A primary goal of this process is to increase
the usability of these products by making their operations
more readily apparent, more obvious, to the user. The
knowledge required to use and operate the product will be
built-in. The use of written instructions, paper or on-line,
will be reduced to addressing special circumstances/uses.

Because they have learned to study, understand, and speak to
product users, technical communicators can become an important
part of this process. Technical communicators will need to
upgrade, refine, and expand a variety of technical skills.

In order to be successful, a technical communicator will need
to be highly proficient in a variety of communications
skills/techniques including graphic arts, visual design,
voice/soundtrack creation, animation, CAD, film scripting,
interface design, etc. Many of these skills require premium
technical skills.

In addition, the use of lean design and production teams will
require each member of the team to contribute more to
development of a product. Technical communicators may become
responsible for actually developing the tools and systems
needed to embed product use information into a product - in
short, this means programming skills. New and evolving systems
development tools make this a practical step.

What do you think? Will excellent writing skills be enough?
What types of knowledge and experience will technical writer's
need to acquire? Will the line between system developer and
writer blur? What types of roles will technical communicators
take on?

I'm interested in your comments.

Ed Putkonen
THMS/Information Innovations
Systems consulting and design for public utilities and local
eputkonen -at- BIX -dot- COM

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