Soft skills first. Useful tips for TC beginners

Newcomers typically face many challenges. I definitely know what I’m talking about because I recently became involved in SoftServe as a trainee technical communicator. And I’ve come into this sphere being a technical support specialist without any experience in technical writing. As soon as I joined the company and started my functional onboarding, I became part of a huge project without a time gap to adapt to new realia. So, for the first few months, I was in the heat rushing between completing onboarding tasks and writing a user guide from scratch for the application I was responsible for. Having such experience, now I can easily define skills that I consider crucial for a newbie technical communicator to stay sane and be successful in your new role. In this article, I’m going to share some tips from my personal example on how to improve several aspects for your professional career to flourish.

Being concentrated

Concentration

Writing a user guide or creating any technical document means concentrating a lot. And in the current world of information overflow, you can be easily triggered to check your social media or view the newest TED talk. Whatever your soft spot is, concentrating can be a challenge. Here are some tips that helped me to enhance my concentration:

  • Keep your work desk minimalistic. Leaving small things on your workplace is distracting even without you actually noticing it. But, if you are of boho-chic and like collecting stuff — that’s fine, just brush the environment occasionally.
  • Take a meaningful break. Attend speaking clubs, join seminars, read professional literature, or do whatever clears your mind, and then you can easily keep up with your main task.
  • Listen to music. I’m sure this tip won’t work for everybody. Personally, I can’t concentrate enough while listening to the songs, but if we’re talking about some monkey job, music in headphones helps not to get bored quickly. I even have my own playlist for working in RoboHelp (if you know what I mean).
  • Pause for a while. When you get distracted making tea, washing the dishes, or watching birds out of the window, your brain gets oxygen and says, “thank you”.
  • Change environment. For staying productive, changing environment is vital. Today, you work in your kitchen, tomorrow in the bathroom, and, who knows, maybe next Monday, you’ll dare to go to the office and work from there. Also, sitting all working day long is bad for your knees and your neck. Well, I’m lucky, because I have a special height-adjustable desk, so I can work standing up and not just sitting down.

Being an attentive listener

Attentive listening

Our job is not only about writing, but also about listening, listening attentively to our teammates, BAs, QCs, PMs, and partners. There are two types of listening: attentive listening and reflective listening. The first type requires your non-verbal reaction like nodding, sitting straight, keeping eye contact, and letting a speaker finish their speech. The second one means that you will paraphrase the speaker’s words to show or check whether you fully understand them. For me, the most important thing here is to keep eye contact. That’s why I highly recommend using cameras during all your meetings. Thus, your partner or client knows that you are not only listening to them attentively but also that you do exist.

The other thing is collecting the exact wording that your opponent is using. This is the precious vocabulary of the topic but be careful to distinguish it from the internal tech slang that your readers wouldn’t be familiar with.

Being systematic

Systematic work

A true technical communicator is the one who has a system on how to maintain the documentation, who sees the structure in everything, or strives to introduce one where it is missing. Without careful planning, there will always be a mess with documents, especially if you have several user groups and a number of different deliverables. And if you think that the user guide comes first, and the system comes last — you’re wrong. On my last project, my fellow TCs and I created a documentation lifecycle plan and several charts to help us maintain our documentation. It covered all the stages, from the investigation through maintenance to the final delivery of the guide to the client. So, we ended up with a well-structured system that we had to follow.

Being more mindful of time

Time management

For the majority of technical communicators, time management is the key soft skill. Basically, for everybody nowadays time is precious and never enough. Especially, if you’re a newbie and have both your onboarding and project. Here are a few tips on how to manage your time:

  • Plan your daily activities. If you are a fan of making lists, writing daily to-do lists will help you manage your working hours.
  • Create a step-by-step system of the documentation delivery beforehand (see the previous skill).
  • Divide meetings into “the ones that are better to attend” and “the ones you can watch in recording”. If you can watch some seminars later — do so. Concentrate on your current project task.
  • Don’t overtime. Set up your working hours and if it’s up to 7 p.m, it must be up to 7 p.m that means a full stop. Who will play volleyball in the evening instead of you if you overtime?

Being outgoing

Communication

So, the name of our job speaks for itself. We must communicate. But we need to talk not only to the client but also to one another. If you are short on communication — seek out teambuildings. I lacked contact to my team, and as the result, I organized a Spanish speaking club that everybody loves to attend now.

If you want to enrich all the mentioned skills such as curiosity, ability to concentrate, and listening — take the initiative! If you want more teambuildings — join clubs and communities, or create ones in your city. Thus, you will feel that you are part of the company or a large technical communicators team.

Let’s get this straight: five skills are not enough. On top of the listed competencies, a good technical communicator should be curious, stand their ground, stick to the details, be extremely attentive, seek help when in need, be self-confident, always be proactive, and think beforehand. It seems unbelievable, but once you dig deeper into technical writing, you’ll realize how cool is to be a technical communicator and that the sky is the limit. Check it out for yourself!

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