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Day in the Life: Story of a Tech Writer

A guest blog post by Dipo Ajose-Coker, Product Ambassador at Componize Software

Drawing of gears, paper and pencil, geometric shapes, light bulb, talk bubble, puzzle pieces, bar graph, and "thumbs up"

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while and I finally plucked the courage to write a short post about: A day in the life of a Technical writer.

Inspired by a desire to have a ready explanation for every Christmas dinner with the family, when I get asked the question: “What exactly do you do?” and “What is a technical writer?”

So, my elevator speech to a 10-year old.

A technical writer is someone who helps people to understand how to use things like computers, mobile phones, machines, toys, and even medication. After the writer talks to the engineers who built or created the thing they need to write about, a technical writer then imagines they are the person that has to use the machine and finds a way to explain how to use, repair or maintain it in a way that is easy for them to understand.
This way, even if you’re not an expert yourself, you can learn how to use the things you need to use or how and when to take the medicine.

What does a typical day look like for a technical writer?

9:00 a.m.

I start the day checking emails and any instant messages that came in afterhours allowing me to prioritize my tasks for the day/week.

9:30 a.m.

I then attend a daily stand-up meetings to share updates and request input from the rest of the development team.

9:45 a.m.

After the stand-up, I spend some time setting up meetings, to discuss the details needed to allow me to continue or start a draft topic. This leaves me with a couple of hours before lunch when I can get some serious writing done.

10 a.m.

I set my status to “Do not disturb” and focus on the top topics on my priority list. This is my time to create content. One of the biggest challenges that technical writers face is dealing with the ever-changing nature of the information they are working with. Product specifications and design documents are constantly being updated, which means that the documents they are working on are also constantly changing. This can be frustrating and time-consuming, but it is an important part of the job to ensure that the documents they are creating are accurate and up-to-date.

Noon 🕛.

Lunch is usually with the rest of the technical writing team, but over time the lunch group has grown to include regulatory affairs leaders, translation project leaders, and a few other experts with whom I work on a daily basis. While the point is not to discuss work at lunchtime, this often allows us to exchange on our workload and also to take a load off.

12:45 p.m.

A quick stop at the coffee machine increases the chances of bumping into an SME or someone you’ve been trying to get hold of even if it’s for just a few minutes. This either leads to an answer to a pressing question or agreeing to a meeting.

1 p.m.

Back to my desk. Do not disturb is back on. I start another writing sprint for a couple of hours. Setting aside writing sprint periods is one way to keep motivated, and maintaining focus as a technical writer. During a writing sprint, a technical writer sets aside a specific period of time, usually an hour or two, to focus solely on writing without any distractions.

I read that one thing high performance athletes do is to run a race expending 80% of effort instead of 100%. The idea behind this approach is that running at a slightly lower intensity allows the athlete to sustain their performance for longer periods of time and avoid burnout or injury.

This same applies to pretty much all walks of life. As a writer, you can see progress being made in a short amount of time. Avoiding long stretches of uninterrupted writing time means you are operating at peak performance with less chance of ending up burnt out. Writing sprints can also help the writer stay focused and minimize distractions, leading to higher-quality work and increased overall satisfaction with their work as a technical writer.

To break up this writing sprint, I either set up review meetings to go over draft documents with the responsible SME, or shift to another non taxing task, like reviewing requirements, preparing or proofing translations, or doing some surf-learning.

3 p.m.

Time for another wander and a coffee. Technical writing can quickly become a very sedentary job. The walk gives me a chance to stretch my legs, and opens a chance of bumping into other workers in the organization. SMEs are not our only sources of information as technical writers. We build a web of connections across the organization. You just never know when that nugget of information will come in useful. That whisper that a particular project has been delayed, means I should start reorganizing my priorities. The CAPA leader might let on that there’s a product hold and possible investigation on the way, so maybe it’s time to pull a change report from the CCMS, and complete archival of the last project. And finally, it’s good for your health to have a regular walk to improve cardio-vascular health and boost energy levels, improve mood, and reduce stress and anxiety.

3:15 p.m.

Back to work. Another writing sprint. Once that is done, I go back over my task list to check off completed tasks. I fill in any trackers required, and then look at my emails to see if there is anything urgent that must be completed first thing the following day.

4:15 p.m.

I shoot off a few responses to email requests, reorganize my calendar if needed, making sure to move my “writing blocks” to fit around any important meetings I’ve recently been invited to attend.

4:45 p.m.

Choice of more writing or peer reviews. Working in a team of writers, we have a system where we peer review for style guide compliance, typos, and general errors that we never spot in our own work. This also give an opportunity to exchange with my team mates on writing styles, terminology and general writing principles.

5:45 p.m.

A last check of my emails, check completed items off my list, update the list with new tasks and

6 p.m.

I shut down my computer and head off home, content in the knowledge that I have done my best for the day, and ready to do it all tomorrow.

I am a little tired, but I’m also a little proud of the work I’ve done, and I know that I’m making a difference, one document at a time.

At the end of the day

While this describes what a typical day might mean for me when I was a technical writer, I can seriously say that no two days are alike, and a lot of the week is spend revising plans to respond to business requirements. I might end up spending more than 50% of my time in meetings, or even the whole day or week drafting documentation specifications to respond to the product requirements. Translating regulatory requirements into documentation tasks can be quite daunting. I actually really liked this particular task. It allowed me to understand why certain decisions are made during the product design phase.

What does your day look like? Tell me if this rings a bell in comments below.

– Dipo Ajose-Coker

This post originally appeared on Componize's website.


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