Two words every (lone) writer should know

Many technical writers, especially lone writers, wear many hats, and they like it that way. Some may proofread reports and marketing material, some may spruce up presentations, some may translate. It’s that variety that often makes a tech writer’s job more interesting. But it has two drawbacks that you might want to avoid if you want to heighten your profile and get recognized as a serious, responsible professional. Fortunately, each drawback can be deflected by a single word which you may want to add to your vocabulary.

Learn to say ‘later’

The first drawback is that you need to juggle very different deadlines. Often, these interesting extra tasks are small, but on short notice. Collect a lot of them, and they start to interfere with your long-term deadlines and your larger documentation tasks. If you negotiate deadlines for the smaller tasks, with your manager or directly with whoever requests them, you show responsibility and that you take the task seriously and don’t want to do it ‘on the side’. In other words, learn to say ‘later’.

Learn to say ‘no’

The second drawback is that lone writers often get defined by what they do – and it hurts them, if they are best known for their smaller, more visible tasks. If you’re the proofreader-in-residence or the person who edits reports to make them ‘nice by noon’, ask yourself if that is what adds the most value to your life and to the organisation. If it’s not, try to get rid of such tasks or at least limit them. Ditch the dirt that defines you. In other words, learn to say ‘no’.

Your turn

Have you added ‘later’ and  ‘no’ to your vocabulary? How successful have you been with them? Are the other words you recommend that tech writers should know and use? Leave a comment!

This post will appear in somewhat different format in the forthcoming Winter issue of ISTC’s Communicator. It will be my first publication in the field of technical communications, yippie! 🙂


3 Responses

  1. Well put, Kai. After a very quiet eight months, my workload has reached a point where I have to say “no” and “later”. No one should be afraid to use them.

    The key is knowing how to communicate that ‘no’ or ‘later’ so that the client accepts the answer (i.e. that you can’t do it right away this time), knows he/she can come back later with another request, or will eventually find someone else if what you really want is to get rid of a particular client. But never burn any bridges!

    • Thanks for your comment, Barbara! You’re definitely right about getting the message across with respect and not to burn bridges!

      A good way to ensure such respect is to offer an alternative, either by suggesting a specific time when you can do “it” or by suggesting someone else who could do it.

  2. […] Weber looks at two words every lone writer should know: later and […]

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