A recent article offers tips for system administrators to be competitive in today’s job market. A lot of the suggestions apply to those in the technical writing field, too.
The following point is worth repeating because I have forgotten it myself in the heat of deadlines:
Customer service skills. A system administrator (or system admin) constantly interacts with people, responding to their problems (and resolving them), and attempting to keep the customer happy. Make no mistake — these are your customers, even if they are in the same company.
Substitute “tech writer” for “system admin” and “end user” for “customer” in the example, and you have a very useful piece of advice. Interacting with end users–internal or external–is essential to ensure that documentation is as useful as it can be.
Because of tight schedules and resource problems, I think it’s really easy to get into a bunker mentality and basically shut down contact with the outside world to crank out deliverables. Unfortunately, that’s among the worst things you can do: isolating yourself from useful feedback just perpetuates problems in documentation, many of which you may not have anticipated because you are too familiar with the product.
Companies are beginning to use Web 2.0 technologies in their documentation processes, though, and that enables instant feedback from users. (BTW, Sarah is presenting on this very topic at the WritersUA conference in Portland, Oregon, next week. I’ll be there, too.)
All this being said, sometimes your external customer (the end user) wants something different than your internal customer (your management). Balancing these competing requirements can be difficult, to say the least.