There is a misconception that to create excellent documentation, a writer needs to be a subject matter expert (SME). That’s simply not the case. In fact, having an expert knowledge can actually hinder the writing process – being an SME can make you lose sight of what your customers need, what they understand, and the type of language they use. Remember, technical authors are often the ‘Middle Men’ between your SMEs and customers. As such, your priority should be in choosing a technical author who is an expert in creating user-friendly documentation, not an expert in another field.
You need a technical author who can:
- Identify and understand the needs of your customers
- Extract information from your SMEs and transform it into documentation your customers understand
- Use language and tone to present information clearly
- Structure your documentation so that it is user-friendly
- Use technical authoring tools to create powerful online help and user guides.
These are skills that a qualified technical author learns as part of their formal training (they may also have knowledge of end-user psychology, user-interface design and communication theory). Unfortunately, many technical writers enter the profession as a second career, and so while they may know the subject matter, they don’t understand the best practices of the technical writer’s craft. This can result in mistakes that affect the quality of your documentation and can cost your business money.
Remember, a technical writer with just expericence may lack good technical communication knowledge – it is easy to make the same errors over and over again if you don’t even understand why they are mistakes in the first place!
What Technical Writing Qualifications Should You Look For?
In the UK, formal technical authoring qualifications are few and far between. The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC) recognises technical author training courses provided by Armada, Cherryleaf, and Eston, and there are technical communication degree programmes running in other countries.
But you’ll be glad to know that when you choose StrayGoat Technical Authoring Services, you hire a technical author with relevant qualifications and experience:
Fellow of the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators
I am a fellow of the ISTC, which is the highest level of membership. As a fellow, I have been recognised by the ISTC as a technical communicator with in-depth knowledge of the discipline and a proven track record. I am also required to take part in Continued Personal Development (CPD) and have to keep a record of my ongoing learning (in relation to technical communication). I keep my skills and knowledge up to date so that I can provide you with an excellent service.
Before I was awarded fellowship status, I was a member of the ISTC, so if you see MISTC anywhere on this site, it means I’ve not updated it yet. As long as I maintain my CPD record, I will be a fellow (FISTC).
BA Hons Technical Communication
There are not many technical author qualifications available in the UK today. But back in the ’90s, Coventry University ran a BA Hons Technical Communication course.
Taught by renowned professionals in the field, the course provided me with the perfect foundation for a career as a technical author. It was this course that gave me the tools I need to do my job – not just the technical and writing skills, but also the understanding of communication theory. Knowing what your customers want and expect from your documentation is vital if I’m going to deliver content that works.
MadCap Flare Advanced Developer Certification
MadCap have their own certification programme, which requires Flare users to pass a detailed test and create a project that contains multiple outputs, links, images, conditional text, etc. I passed the Flare version 11 certification test in 2015, so you can be confident in my ability to create whatever Flare output you need.
MadCap Flare Training
Armada is a Midlands based business that provides excellent training for technical authors. To get up to speed on MadCap Flare, I took a three day course, and passed with flying colours. This was the ideal preparation for my first contract, as the task was to convert FrameMaker based documentation into HTML5 using Flare.
Certified SEO Copywriter
While not exactly a technical authoring qulification, I have completed the Success Works SEO Copywriting programme. This course trains writers to create marketing content that appeals to humans and search engines. As documentation becomes increasingly web-based, knowing how to structure pages for Google is a must. It also comes in handy for writing promotional pieces, including brochures, sales pages, and blogs.