With the rise of AI and Large Language Models, I’ve been thinking more about the role of technical communicators within big business. Obviously, people are concerned about machines taking their jobs, but technical writing is so much more than just putting words on a page. There are a lot of things that an AI just can’t do effectively, and a lot of hidden skills out there in our community, so let’s talk about some of our key advantages as non-robotic writers.
Interviewing: “What makes our technical infrastructure so good?”
One of the lynchpin skills for any technical communicator is the ability to effectively interview the knowledge owner and dive deeper into the topic. A good technical writer can pull detailed information from a source with a series of well-thought-out questions. The ability to question in this way is a skill possessed by talk show hosts and technical writers in equal measure. This superpower leads to both interesting interviews and comprehensive documents.
Investigation: “You paused when you said the UI was slow, is there a deeper story behind that?”
Offhand comments or general statements give our “ace investigator” technical communicators clues they can use to probe deeper into functions and reveal hidden features, bugs, and anomalies. Focused questions and non-visual cues help great technical writers discover all manner of elements that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Extrapolating: “I wonder if this software could be repurposed for fraud prevention?”
A machine is unlikely to be able to relate a technical issue to a childhood sporting experience and come up with an original solution to a problem. Technical communicators frequently extrapolate on existing data based on experience that may be relevant yet unrelated, making intuitive leaps using their own knowledge and background. Intuition is hard to define and so remains an invaluable and difficult-to-replicate skill.
Networking: “I was talking to Bob in the coffee corner, and he told me that the technical infrastructure project will be completed a week early.”
The best technical communicators form networks for information-gathering purposes as well as social ones. We talk to experts and to each other, often learning incidental information that proves critical later. These diverse networks may reveal conflicting information that we can bring to the attention of those who can resolve the discrepancies.
Unique Experience: “I know we have a history of issues when it comes to integration, should we write addition support content here?”
Unlike trained AIs that rely on the same information core, humans each come with decades of experience, 99% of which doesn’t exist in any database or online repository. A good technical communicator brings this wider experience to the table and utilizes it for the benefit of their project.
Feedback and Teaching: “Maybe next time we should look at the error messages first, so translation can get their job done a week earlier?”
A good technical communicator provides feedback to their experts, helping them to expand their language skills and streamline processes. Technical communicators also make good information multipliers because, to write great content, they need to think in a detailed and methodical manner about how functions work.
The First Customer: “It’s great that the team managed to cross-link three databases, but why does the customer have to press four buttons and pull two levers while standing on their head to make this work?”
A technical communicator serves as a product’s first customer. We’re the first people to look at a new feature who haven’t spent days and weeks making it work. We’re not necessarily awed by technical achievements but are focused instead on functions and usability. We give our teams a fresh perspective, complementing the one offered by UX experts.
So, to paraphrase a Product Owner of mine: technical writers can do much more than write. What do you think? Do we have other hidden skills that I’ve missed here? What are your top skills? Tell me below!