Research skills are the most underrated but essential tools in a technical writer’s skillset. Research means a lot of things: reading technical specifications, interviewing subject matter experts, finding information on the Internet, watching people use the product. Technical writers tend to spend much more time on research than on actual writing.
As a technical writer you’ll find yourself working with a wide variety of people with various technical and social skills. Some will prefer group meetings, some will want to meet one on one, some will want to walk you through the product, some will prefer email, and some will do everything they can to avoid helping you. As the technical writer, it is your job to find the best way to collaborate with all of these people.
Most technical writing positions require you to stay on top of multiple projects. Some days you’ll be left to your own devices to just research and write, but on other days you’ll find yourself in non-stop meetings or on the phone. This is why it is important to track your progress on every project and keep either a detailed calendar or a to-do list (or both). In many cases you’ll be asked to give weekly reports on each project, but even if you’re the only one tracking your progress, staying organized will make your job much easier.
Planning goes hand in hand with organization, but it really is a separate skill. Some positions and situations may not require heavy planning, but as you move forward in your career, you’ll often be asked to submit project plans that give such things as an estimate of hours to be worked, milestones, deliverables, dependencies and reviews. Once you create a plan, you’ll be expected to stick with it, even when the overall product development falls behind. It pays to invest in a book or two on project management so that you know both how to create a project plan, and what to look for in other people’s project plans.
For more advice on technical writing I recommend you take a look at Technical Writing Career Advice from 11 Experts over at Helpscribe.