Lately I’ve been thinking about how to keep up with the field of technical communication. I’ve seen I’m not alone in this: Earlier this week Larry Kunz wrote insightfully about the five tools of a star technical communicator and Tom Johnson provided a great post on how important it is for technical writers to have a working knowledge of web design principles. Keeping up with technology and assorted soft skills is certainly vital to being a productive technical communicator, but it begs a few questions regarding the “what” and “how” to make it happen.
Two years ago I sat in my advisor-to-be’s office at NC State University and told him the reason I was interested in the M.S. in Technical Communication program was because I wanted to “catch up with the field of technical communication.” In hindsight earning a master’s degree may not have been the best way to catch up with the latest and greatest tools and tricks of the field, though it’s certainly given me a broader perspective and increased my ability to be an effective technical communicator in other, sometimes more subtle, ways.
An assignment in a publications management class last semester addressed the issue of keeping up with the field of technical communication and forced me to think about it in a structured way. The assignment was to put together a training plan for yourself for two years, assuming you’re a tech comm manager in a software development environment. The plan had to cover six areas:
- General Management Skills
- Tech Comm-Specific Management Skills
- General Technical Skills
- Tech Comm-Specific Technical Skills
- Industry- or Discipline-Specific Skills
In order to get a good grade I put together an admittedly overly-ambitious plan that included things like attending the annual STC Summit and reading more technology, trade, and financial journals than I have time for now, let alone when I’m working full-time. As a student, I’ve augmented my master’s degree by reading blogs by technical communicators and joining and attending meetings for groups such as the STC Carolina Chapter and the RTP-DITA user’s group, and I feel I’ve done a pretty good job overall of accomplishing my goal of “catching up” with the field of technical communication—for now. But as is often the case, the more I learn the more questions I have, and when it comes to being “caught up” it’s hard to know what is enough.
- Since no one can be an expert on everything, what topics do you find it most important to stay caught up on—developments specifically related to tech comm (such as DITA, for example), or is it more important to stay on top of advancements in the technology you’re documenting? Or management principles if you’re a manager?
- How do you go about keeping up? Is there a point where enough is enough?