How to Train New Technical Writers to Become Productive Quickly

There are ample number of cases where Project Managers do not have the luxury of hiring experience technical writers. Due to various reasons it may be only possible to hire fresh graduates or interns for technical writing assignments.

In these cases what can Project Managers do to quickly bring the writer up to speed and complete the technical writing assignment in time and with acceptable quality levels.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Just like the only way to get better at talking is to talk, talk and talk and
Just like the only way to get better at driving is to drive, drive and drive some more,
the only way to pick up a skill like Technical Writing is to write, write and write some more.

Constant Course Correction

David Allen the famous author and creator of the Getting Things Done way of thinking, said that going towards a goal is never a straight line. It is always a uneven line that zig zags its way towards the goal.

He explains this concept with the example of a Jet Aircraft going from one continent to another. He said that a Jet plane never travels in a straight line, in fact, the jet is off course more than 80% of the time. It is the constant course correction applied by the pilots that keeps it going in the desired direction and gets it to the final destination.

The Baby Steps

The reason I mentioned the story told by David Allen, is because the practice that the new technical writer needs to do get better, must be accompanied by frequent feedback and course corrections. As part of the training process the new technical writer should not be given a 500 page document to write that takes 3 months. Instead, the writer should be given short assignments that do not take more than a day to complete. And at the end of the day the work should be reviewed by the manager and corrections suggested. I would like to call this the 3C (Constant Course Correction) type of training.

This style of micro writing assignments and micro feedbacks can help the new technical writer pick up the style of writing that the manager wants to see from the writer. The manager can give the feedback to align the writing style to:

  • Company Style Guides and Writing Standards
  • The way the company wants to communicate with its customers as defined by its content strategy
  • The expectations that the companies customers have from its technical content

That Seems Like a LOT Work

Now, these large number of small assignments and corrections may seem like a lot of work. And it is very much possible the due to some fire or another the manager is called off to handle some urgent call or meeting. In such cases it is important to keep the 3C Training going. One way to make sure that the 3C Training keeps going is to do it in a sustainable fashion.

How to Sustain the 3C Training Amid Daily Fire Fighting

James Clear comes to our rescue when we need to deal with things that need to be sustained over a prolonged period of time. Although the 3C Training need only be done for a month or so (and for much shorter when the technical writer has a higher rate of learning), we all know how difficult it is to be diligent with things in a office setting.

James Clear in his article titled Do Things You can Sustain talks about how it is possible to sustain activities over extended period of time by not only setting a minimum daily target but also a maximum daily target. This maximum daily target should never be more than can be handled.

End Notes

I feel that the 3C Training has a lot of potential in guiding a technical writer towards productivity and in shortening the overall time spent in bringing a new technical writer upto speed.

Written on April 6, 2015