As a freelance writer, I have learned to be independent. Yes, I get some guidance from clients from time-to-time, but I have also learned how to deal with life’s little problems. As a Technical Writer/Proposal Writer, I’ve learned how to quickly pick up complex processes that need a bit of technical knowledge.
In this contract that I am currently on, I’m not the Technical Writer. I am in the Senior Analyst position, so my documents get handed to someone who has the “Technical Writer” role. I assumed (yes, I know, I should NEVER assume) that having this sense of independence is something that is shared by all writers. It isn’t.
You are dealing with stakeholders, directors, developers, analysts, and users who are extremely busy. You have to learn how to be self-sufficient enough to handle minor issues. If you keep bothering them, then they will want to skip documentation altogether because they will see it as an obstacle instead of helpful. If I give you a completed document, you should be asking me about things that you need to resolve yourself. I should be able to give you a rough draft and be self-assured that you will edit, format, and finalize it.
Here are some tips on how to become a writer who doesn’t have to constantly need to contact people:
1. Ask for Access to the System
I’ve always said that a Technical Writer is also an analyst, writer, and tester, even a project manager. The first thing you must do is get access to the system. You already have the raw material of what the person wrote in front of you. Test it! Don’t keep sending emails, calling, or requesting emails because you don’t know what the person meant on this and that step. Take what they wrote, follow them, and rewrite it if it needs to be done.
2. For Formatting and Styling, You Don’t Need the OK
Yes, there should be a style guide. If there isn’t, develop one. You shouldn’t be asking anyone about how the formatting and styling of the document should be done. You are the writer; not them. Do you really think they care? As long as it looks “pretty” and it’s well-written, that is all people care about. If the person left the formatting, labeling, and editing for you to do, then don’t bother them with “this isn’t formatted right.” They’ll look at you with a huge question mark wondering “Aren’t you the writer?” Yes, you are, so take initiative and do it.
3. Get a Screenshot Tool Installed on Your Own System
If the person forgot to include one or all of the needed screenshots, then if you have access to the system, you can do it yourself. When I write, I always ensure that I have a screenshot app. My favorite is Snag It, but you have to pay for it. Aviary has a great one if it’s a web-based application. You could also check out Screen Hunter or Snippy. If you use a Mac, then you can just hit Command+Shift+4. If you use a PC, Print Screen works. There is no reason to keep bothering people for screenshots.
4. Become a Fake-Me-Out Graphic Designer
The title is meant to be funny, and believe me, I am not a graphic designer. Side note: If anyone wants to teach me how to make infographics, I am game! However, I’ve learned the basics of using Photoshop and Fireworks. If a client needs an image manipulated in some way, then I do it. Or if I see that an image needs to be fixed, then I’m there. I don’t go to the design shop asking for help. I’m on deadline, and I don’t want to miss it waiting on other people. Yes, if it’s complex, I will. However, image manipulation needs usually aren’t.
5. Learn HTML
6. Have Virtual Meetings
I really hate, HATE meetings. The worst are the ones that could have done via email. If you have a chat system that is used at work, then use it. Yes, in-person meetings are needed if you have tons of questions. However, if it’s just one or two, then ask the person via email or chat. A phone call is even better than scheduling a meeting. As I always tell people, your time is valuable. Why waste it sitting in a useless meeting? It doesn’t make people think that you are working extra hard. It will just annoy them. If you have document collaboration abilities at work, use them. They can see the changes while you both talk about it.
7. If You Have to Have a Meeting, Be Prepared
There are times that you have tons of questions, so you will have to call a meeting. Have all your questions ready to ask the person while he/she is sitting in front of you. It will make the person feel that the meeting ISN’T useless, and that you are aware of how busy he/she is. If you need to go over the document, then have your laptop ready. If you don’t have a laptop, then print two copies out and have the sections you have questions on already marked. Time is money, so don’t waste yours or theirs.
When we are self-sufficient, Technical Writers are an asset. You want companies to realize this because the first thing to always be cut is documentation. If you keep asking questions, calling unnecessary meetings, and asking for insignificant items, like screenshots, you are not adding value.