Checklist for Starting a New Technical Writing Job

Whether you’re starting a new full-time position or working on a contract basis, the prospect of beginning a new technical writing job is exciting, but sometimes, it can also be daunting. What is the best way to approach your projects? The following checklist, compiled by the technical writers here at ProEdit, will help you succeed in your technical writing endeavors.

Getting Started on the Right Foot

If you’re going to be working onsite at a new place, it can be a little intimidating as you start to learn your way around. Before you get to work on the project itself, familiarize yourself with the folks you’ll be working with. Find out what the preferred method of communication is: phone, email, chat, or maybe a face-to-face visit. Confirm how to schedule meetings and where they will be held. If you’re working with client-provided technology, make sure you know your way around it before diving into the project. Acquainting yourself with your new surroundings will make work more comfortable and enjoyable.

Gauge the Scope of the Work

Whether you are managing a project or are doing the writing alone, it is important that you fully understand the scope of the work requested before you begin. Fully understanding the task will help you manage your time more efficiently from the beginning and will ensure that you don’t over- or underestimate the effort required.

Stick to the Project Plan

Project plans are developed for each new project that comes in, and they aren’t just for keeping the budget and timeline on track; they are carefully and thoughtfully created to make sure that the tasks required of each technical writing project are done in the most logical order. A good project plan should act as a map to project completion and should allow you to focus on writing without worrying about other aspects of a project.

Conduct SME or Other Interviews

You may be required to conduct or sit in on subject matter expert (SME) interviews for the sake of understanding the more complex steps or processes associated with the document being created. Before the interview, jot down a few questions you plan to ask. This will help direct the conversation. It is crucial that you ask questions and get clarification on any aspect of the work that you don’t fully understand. After all, if you don’t completely understand the processes, how can you create a document that will be easily understood by the intended audience?

Be Consistent

Is there a specific style guide that should be followed? If so, be sure that you understand the ins and outs of the guide before you begin. If not, it is often beneficial to either choose a style guide (AP or Chicago is usually a good choice) or create one at the beginning of a project. Make note of punctuation usage (Is the serial comma used?), spelling preferences, spacing and formatting rules, and other items that will need to be carried through the entire document. This will not only help you as you write, but it will also be a vital resource when the project goes through the quality assurance (QA) process.

Question as You Go

Once you’ve started, you may realize that there are gaps in your source material or that you need further clarification on a topic. Be sure to make note of any questions you have as you work—this will save you from having to go back and remember what areas needed clarity when you’re done with the writing effort. Asking questions along the way will also speed up the project process as a whole because SMEs and other resources can find answers while work on a document is still in progress.Technical writing requires thoughtful consideration of source materials and strict attention to detail. We hope that the tips provided in this article will help you hone in on your technical writing skills and improve your expertise in this exciting field!

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