Quora: A great way to get some Technical Writing experience
And a Tech Writer’s guilty pleasure
If you’ve never heard of Quora, well then let me formally introduce you:
Quora is a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users.
For Technical Writers, and me in particular, Quora is an ego-padding dream with its wealth of opportunities to flex my writing prowess and show off my aptitude for concocting procedures. When I joined in 2011, Quora was not the well-groomed experience it is now. Right away it felt like cringe city with some of the poorly written questions and answers. Mostly because the topics I cared about (US soccer and technical writing) just didn’t have anyone curating them. Like any good Technical Writer with an enormous project they’re actively avoiding I took the opportunity to try and figure out that Quora thing.
Then one of my answers blew up (a little)…
In the grand scope of internet popularity, I’m aware a few thousand fews and a few hundred upvotes is still pretty small potatoes. But my (initially) anonymous heartfelt post resonated with folks.
My activity on Quora came in spurts, and I was dormant for quite some time.
When I came back to the site months later I was shocked to see my answer had received over a thousand views… in one day. I was hooked. It gave me the same kind of satisfaction I’d get from blogging but without the overhead of bothering to set up a blog. And it came with an endless supply of questions to answer or topics to write about. I also went through my J. Jonah Jameson phase where I’d go around like a Tech Writer Ninja and improve other people’s content. I started out only fixing glaring errors and quickly graduated to becoming the grammar Nazi. Plus needing another editor to approve my suggestions for improvement felt like a minor assault on my well-gardened Quora-themed ego.
How to Quora like a boss
It seemed to me that these few factors contributed to my modest success.
Put in a little effort into answers
I didn’t spend an extraordinarily large amount of time creating or editing my answers, but I did take care to use rich text formatting, add links to referenced content, and would do a proofread of my content sometime after publishing it for typos and silly errors. For a professional Technical Writer that’s actually not a ton of work — the trick is writing about stuff you care about, so that you don’t have to rely too much on having to motivate yourself to work on it. But just that little bit of effort and professionalism can make an answer stand out.
Steer clear of the bandwagon when possible
The handful of topics I frequent I care about personally and professionally, but I still regularly peruse lots of different Quora topics. I make an effort to be selective about where I spend my time creating content in Quora. Unless someone has asked me directly (a handy and fun little feature where Quora lets you ask regular contributors to a topic, by name, to answer a question), I avoid spending a lot of time answering questions that have lots of answers already. There’s just too much noise to get noticed.
But, of course, no matter the popularity of a question if you feel you have a unique answer to contribute don’t let anything stop you from doing so.
Keep up with current events
With most of my content in the soccer topic, my most popular content tends to be things I submitted during or directly after a current event. For example, one of my more popular answers is to the question Why is the U.S. women’s national soccer team so dominant and not the men’s? I wrote the answer originally in 2011, but in July 2015 I suddenly got a flurry of activity on that answer. Why? Because the US Women’s National soccer team had just won the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
When in doubt, if you’re looking to contribute to topics that will get views on your content it’s hard to go wrong with whatever current events are happening at the moment.
Try some of these tips yourself and see if you don’t improve your engagement statistics on Quora.
How would this help me become a Technical Writer?
Two ways Quora can primarily help you become a Tech Writer.
Look for content about your career
First and most obvious is my content under the Technical Writing topic. My arrogance is in jest, because I don’t feel I contribute enough to be considered an authority on the topic there. Still, use Quora to find out things about becoming or being a Technical Writer (or any other profession). It will help you figure out if a career path is for you, and how other people took steps to achieve success. Don’t underestimate the kind of nuggets of wisdom you can find in Quora.
Where more formal websites with curated, deliberate content might be good at defining a topic, answers on Quora sometimes help put together multiple bits of information to tell a more personal story. For some people those kinds of tidbits helps to connect dots and trigger inspiration.
A colleague of mine, a Technical Writer, when he started a few years ago as a Graduate Technical Writer he recognized my name right away when we were introduced. He explained that some of my answers on Quora helped him figure out how to land his job with Atlassian! I could not have been more shocked and flattered. It made me feel like the time and effort I put into my content there was worth it, because it helped someone.
Use unanswered Quora questions like documentation tasks
This seems more involved than it is. And unlike some of the other advice I’ve given, this time it actually is more fulfilling to do this with topics you may not be an expert with. By challenging yourself to answer unanswered questions in topics you’re not familiar with you’ll probably need to do a little research. Treat creating the content seriously, like you would an academic essay, and include links to references, images, or even challenge opposing answers in your answer. Explain how to do things, specifically, using well-crafted sentences and precise instructions you’ve tested yourself. Double-points for dropping in screenshots or making it a full-blown follow-along tutorial.
This is writing technically.
The only difference between the faux assignments you pick off the Quora queue and the kinds of tasks you’d get as a professional Tech Writer are the importance of considering audience and the stakes for making mistakes.
At your job it’s your business to know who you’re writing for, and shouldn’t write a word until you know precisely who will be consuming your docs, and how. In the world of Quora it’s much more difficult to tell. Also, because you’re not being paid there’s not much at risk if you make a mistake, but readers won’t trust you or upvote your content if it’s flat out wrong. So take pride in your work and double-check it.
Use the content you’re proud of as pieces in your portfolio. Seriously. Great content is great content, and it’s not so important about where it came from so much that it does the job it’s meant to do. If you’re just starting your career or transitioning from a different job where your portfolio is rather thin, you shouldn’t hesitate to find a way to share content you create for Quora with potential employers.
Craft content around trends in topics you care about
If creating content for Quora isn’t your thing, or you already have a blog you’re pouring your time into, you can still use Quora to help give you some experience writing technical content.
Navigate through the topics that are important and take notice of:
- any related topics that are popular or trending,
- frequently asked questions or often repeated questions,
- or any aspect of a topic that you would find interesting to write about you might not have already considered.
Use the themes and trends you come across in Quora to guide what you’re writing about for your blog. For example, if Microsoft were to suddenly come out with a new version of Word, you might see a spike in questions about how to do things in that program. If you spot the trend soon enough you can focus content around helping people learn how to use that new software.
This works really well for battling an occasional bout of writers’ block as well.
John A. Paz is a Senior Technical Writer for Atlassian, and writes documentation for Bitbucket Cloud. He has over 11 years of professional Technical Writing experience across a wide variety of technical industries, but found his home in software.
He’s looking for opportunities to share his experience and expertise with aspiring Technical Writers, or established professionals looking to transition to becoming Technical Writers. If you’re interested in mentorship, or just have questions about Technical Writing, he urges you to get in touch via Twitter or LinkedIn.