Recently, I was interviewed and asked what defines success as a technical writer. I mulled over the question for a bit, wrote a draft or two, and found myself completely stuck. Despite it being a goal of mine, I couldn’t put pen to paper. What does a successful technical writer look like? How can we define it?
In my initial drafts, I was drawn to the naïve, shallow definition of success we’re all taught. Successful technical writers are well known. They speak at conferences around the world. They’re organizational leaders. They’re celebrities in their own right. And then I read that over. Surely, one does not have to be a celebrity to be successful at their job, right? Was I really not going to be considered a success until my name was in lights? Scratch that. Take two.
My follow-up drafts tried to focus on being a well-rounded writer. Successful technical writers know a variety of subjects and software. They can be placed in any environment and be the subject matter expert. They can answer any question and write about any topic with little to no direction. But still, this seemed off. Many technical writers specialize in certain fields and are very successful. And expert knowledge in all technical communication software seems like an extreme qualifier for being a “success”. Take three.
So let’s try to find a happy medium between the two. Successful technical writers don’t have to be celebrities, but they should be thought leaders. They should be tuned into the technical writing community and stay abreast of the latest trends and topics. Maybe they don’t have to know everything, but they should have expert knowledge in some areas. They should also be prepared to jump into unfamiliar waters and stay afloat.
Is that my final definition? Kind of. Not really. I expect it to change much and often over my years in the field. And, given my need to constantly push myself, I’m sure I will never consider myself a success. Rather, I’ll adapt the definition as needed to set new goals. But for now, that’s where I’m at.
What about you? What do you think a successful technical writer is?
About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit her bio page.