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Dreadful Deadlines, Spooky Structures, and Other Fears of Tech Writers

by ClickHelp — professional help authoring tool

“If you fear change, change the fear.”

There’s Halloween in the air. We’ll be dressing in costumes, and someone may light bonfires to ward off spirits :) It’s a gut-wrenching (but at the same time fun) time, a high time to reflect upon the fears that technical writers face at their work.

Technical writing is both an exciting and challenging career. It can be difficult to work with all the different people and complex information. Here’s the list of the most common dreads of tech writers:

  • Procrastination. You keep delaying your writing and instead focusing on more enjoyable and easier activities.
    How to deal with this fear: Push yourself in a chair and stay there until you produce X pages. If it is a complex piece, start by explaining or describing what got your interest. Spice it up with something exciting and easy. Sometimes helping other people is also motivating.
  • Сhanges on short notice. You can get busted by last-minute changes to the product. You finished all your part in the documentation, and then, right before publication, the dev team announces they’re shipping several new features that weren’t included in the original scope.
    How to deal with this fear: Always leave extra time to incorporate new changes in your writing. Remember that your documentation is never “done,” and changes won’t surprise you. And if you work closely with the development team, you’ll stay up to date with the changes they might make.
  • Lack of information. You didn’t completely understand the process or the product you are trying to document, so you won’t be able to explain it properly.
    How to deal with this fear: SMEs are great people who can explain everything you need to know. Never hesitate to ask questions, even if some of them seem stupid.
  • Misunderstanding your audience. You’re afraid that you don’t have a clear idea of who your users are. If you don’t have a deep knowledge of users, your technical writing will be worse than useless.
    How to deal with this fear: Hold user interviews to find out more about your customers. The sales department can help here, or a support team can give ideas about the questions users ask. Revise your documentation so that it reflects the most common user concerns.
  • Failure to communicate. You think your social skills leave much to be desired. But SMEs are a big part of the collaboration at work.
    How to deal with this fear: Communication is hard, and there’s always more to learn. Improve your social skills daily. For example, learn to be a good listener and show interest in the person you’re talking to. Many books on the subject can help you go into the matter of good communication (For example, “Failure to Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong and What You Can Do to Right Them” by Holly Weeks).
  • Improper tools. You have the idea of what documentation tool will really help you and enable you to produce the best quality documentation. But your department still works with MS Word at the very least, and your boss considers help authoring tools as money to burn.
    How to deal with this fear: Do research on the tools you think could help in your writing, and pick the one that suits your needs best. Then make a case to convince your manager to provide you with such a tool. Show how much time, resources, and effort could be saved — money talks.
  • Boredom. The product you are writing about doesn’t interest you. One moment you think it’s fine, and the next thought is, “I would shoot myself if I had to write one more paragraph about wrangling Medicare reimbursements.”
    How to deal with this fear: Think of the sphere of your interests and advance in that direction. Even better if you have several inclinations to choose from.
  • Lack of self-confidence. Being respected as a valued contributor to the company is essential to customer success. But there are people in a company that consider they can do your job as easily and effectively as you are because “it’s just writing. How hard can it be? I write too.”
    How to deal with this fear: It takes time to show your subject matter experts the unique value of your contribution. Information architecture, readability, scan-ability, and discoverability of information count as much, if not more, than the mere capacity to string a subject and verb together correctly.
  • Disorganized structure. Technical documents may confuse readers if they are not planned properly and illogically structured. Information in the text is hard to find; sections don’t naturally follow from one another, and so on.
    How to deal with this fear: Before beginning the writing process, take the time to be thoughtful about the document’s overall structure. A simple outline will work wonders when planning the document’s layout. Then, ask a colleague to closely review your document to check it makes sense and come up with suggested changes.

Conclusion

The easiest way to deal with fear when writing is to focus on the process and map it with the intent rather than bothering about the outcome. Concentrate your mind and efforts on each step, one at a time. If it is a document, for example, create content for a sub-heading without bothering about the other parts. Only after all sections are ready should you invest in ensuring that all parts fit together.

In most cases, fear resides in our minds. We create it by ourselves. We assume it is there, which is why it haunts us even more. We wish you to conquer all your fears and enjoy Halloween costume parties, trick-or-treating, decorating and carving pumpkins, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films.

Do you have any fears? And if yes, then how do you master your fears? Share your thoughts with us, and we’ll update the article by adding your experience.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

Originally published at https://clickhelp.com.

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ClickHelp - online documentation tool for technical writers and teams. Check it out: https://clickhelp.com/