As a broadcast news major in undergrad, I never thought I’d be in a technical communication program. But if there’s one thing you learn about Huntsville, Alabama: The technology field is a major industry here in the Rocket City, and the more technical skills you possess, the more marketable you are in this town. But with a degree in broadcast journalism, the most I knew about technical communication was how to communicate and operate a video camera….Or so I thought. But as a technical communication student, I’m learning that I have more skills that translate to technical communication than I thought.
If you too are a journalist attempting to break into the field, identify what skills you possess, and how to apply them to technical communication. Here are some overlapping skills that both journalists and technical communicators have, according to a blog post by Scott Nesbitt entitled: “Tech Writing and Journalism: Yes, There are Parallels” on the DMN Communications blog.
According Nesbitt, “Writing is a key factor in technical communication and journalism. You don’t need to be a great stylist to be an effective technical writer or journalist, though. You need to be able to write clearly and write tightly.”
Basically, write concisely. If you’re an editorial journalist who writes for print media, this may be a little bit of an adjustment. But if you’ve ever written for television news, this is right up your alley. Use the simplest form of words to make your audience understand. Assume that no one knows what you are talking about unless you explain it to them because in most cases, they really won’t understand.
This is a skill you probably didn’t even know you would need as a technical communicator. But interviewing can play a just as big, if not bigger, role in technical communication as writing can. As Nesbitt puts it, “ …you need to know how to ask the right questions, and not be afraid to ask dumb ones. On top of that, you’ll need to know how to gently draw answers out of reluctant interviewees and to spot tangents that are worth following during an interview.”
As a technical writer, you will have to interview the technical professionals in your organization, so that the information that you are distributing to the user is correct and most efficient. You won’t know this information if you don’t ask the technical professional. And you have to be sure that the questions you’re asking will provide the information that users need to know.
Journalists are known for finding the information we need to obtain, whether it’s handed to them on a silver platter by very cooperative forces, or if they have to dig around and investigate for themselves. According to Nesbitt, researching “ can take many forms: looking at design documents, reading up on subjects like virtualization, or even going over documentation for products that are similar to the ones we’re writing about.
All in all, transitioning from journalism to being technical communication student hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. Sure there are some aspects of it that I never would’ve probably seen in news, such as learning computer programming, or learning the inner workings of an engineering firm, but all in all, it has been smooth sailing… so far.