A great technical writer is an essential part of your team, whether you need technical information to be disseminated internally to other staff members, or externally to customers and suppliers.
A technical writer has specialised knowledge in their field, with the ability to create in-depth written information such as equipment manuals, instructions for operating or maintaining equipment, creating layouts for technical materials, or writing information about construction, plant machinery, or even medical subjects.
This article will discuss the skills and abilities that a technical writer should have, and how you can test applicants for a technical writer role to ensure that they have the necessary knowledge and aptitude to be successful in the future.
What should a technical writer be able to do?
A great technical writer should be able to take complicated, technical knowledge and create written information that has the right content, and meets the required standards of conciseness, style and clarity as required by the audience. They should be able to visualise the finished article, and select the right graphics and illustrations such as tables, drawings, and photographs that will provide contextual and useful additional information.
The technical writer should be comfortable in creating written information for different media, including print and online, and be able to edit and update this information when necessary.
The technical writer should be able to read and understand various sources of data on products to create their content, such as:
- Industry journals
- Product samples
- Manufacturer and trade catalogues
- Interviews with experts
The technical writer should also be confident in communicating with the relevant people and departments to create the right content at the right time, including executives, publishers, and customer representatives.
Great technical writers should also be able to edit other people's work, and be confident in reviewing and improving work that has already been published, recommending appropriate revisions that take into account a new format, more scope, and even things like binding and layout.
Skills to look for in a technical writer
There are certain skills that are needed for a technical writer to be successful, and a prospective technical writer should be able to demonstrate the below skills:
- Writing: the technical writer needs to be able to communicate in writing with the correct style, level of knowledge, and conciseness that is required. This is more than just reproducing what is already written, but also creating information that is suitable for the knowledge level of the reader.
- Reading Comprehension: understanding and analysing source material to get data for the technical information that they need to write means having the ability to really comprehend in-depth and often complicated data. The technical writer needs to be comfortable and confident reading dense written information.
- Communication: the technical writer needs to be able to work as part of a team, and that means being able to communicate with colleagues as well as superiors and even customers. Oral communication is almost as necessary as written communication for a technical writer to be an effective team member.
- Critical Thinking: in a similar way to reading comprehension, the skill of being able to take information and distil it into the right concentration of detail for the reader needs critical thinking. The technical writer needs to be able to assess a problem from all angles and think outside the box when necessary.
- Writing and Publishing Software: creating the written content is only part of the role of a technical writer; they also need to be able to publish it in the right format for the audience. Skills in using document creation software are necessary to ensure that formatting is correct, whether it is for online publication or the creation of physical materials.
Useful abilities for a technical writer
Aside from the skills that a technical writer needs to be successful, there are some abilities that recruitment teams should look out for in applicants, including:
- Written Expression and Communication: having great knowledge and expertise - and even the right writing skills - is not enough for a good technical writer. They need to have the ability to express themselves in writing and communicate at the appropriate level to suit the audience.
- Logical Reasoning: dealing with unfamiliar information and making the right decisions on information to include in their writing means making deductions using logic. Both inductive (taking a general rule and applying it to a specific problem) and deductive (taking a specific rule and applying it to a general problem) reasoning abilities are essential for a technical writer.
- Visualisation: a technical writer needs to be able to visualise the problem that they are going to solve with their written information to produce the right content. They also need to be able to visualise what this will look like as a completed work, so they need to be confident in their abilities to be creative, too.
- Fluency of ideas: creating technical writing might involve a real depth of knowledge, but that should not mean that the content is stale - and one way to ensure that your technical writer can create interesting and useful writing is to ensure that they have lots of ideas, even if they are not all good. Fluency of ideas is part of the creative ability that makes a technical writer great.
- Problem Sensitivity: in order to visualise the problem that the writing is going to solve, the technical writer needs to be able to understand that there is a problem. Similar to critical thinking skills, the technical writer must have the ability to recognise problems before they can begin to solve them with their content.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a technical writer?
Soft skills are often difficult to assess in a recruitment process without the use of relevant testing, but they are important to the overall success of the applicant in the future.
Choosing the right soft skills tests to use for a technical writer means understanding the skills that are necessary for a successful hire. These include:
Communication skills: one of the most important skills for a technical writer is Communication, and the communication skills test allows the candidate to demonstrate that they can read non-verbal cues, demonstrate active listening, and tell a convincing story when necessary. Communication is a verbal soft skill that is integral to good working culture and a cohesive team.
Time management: technical writers must be able to work to deadlines, and often have to juggle multiple tasks at once. This means that the time management soft skills test will help the recruitment team to judge how well they can multitask and ensure that projects are completed on time, whilst also dealing with other aspects of the role.
Accountability: technical writers need to produce accurate content for their published writing, which means that they need to be responsible for finding the right sources, creating in-depth content without errors, and finishing work to the highest standard. The Accountability test assesses the candidate to ensure that they will take responsibility and produce the right content at the right time.
Leadership: although not always a management role, the technical writer needs to display leadership skills to get the information that they need and put their points across. Technical writers might have to interview industry experts or colleagues who regularly use specific equipment to establish pain points as well as user information, and they need to be able to do that in the right way.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a technical writer?
Skills that are useful for a technical writer to have can be tested using technical and aptitude assessments, and these can often combine different skills into one test which is useful for recruiters including:
Verbal Reasoning: this assessment tests the applicant on their reading comprehension. It can also give the recruitment team an indication of the candidate's ability to read, understand and analyse formal writing to find a logical conclusion, using only the information that they are provided.
Logical Reasoning: this test is designed to assess the candidate on how they approach a problem, and the aptitude they have in applying logical thinking to reach the right conclusion. This also tests their critical thinking and ability to consider all possible points of view before making a decision that is based on logic.
Error checking: a technical writer needs to have a good eye for detail, and that is where the error checking test can make a difference for recruiters. By finding the errors in seemingly identical information, the candidate can show that they have the skills and abilities to produce accurate and error free content.
Our recommended test battery for a technical writer
For the best results in hiring a skilled technical writer with the right aptitude, we recommend using the following tests:
- Verbal reasoning tests: reading comprehension is a critical skill when writing technical content.
- Logical reasoning tests: logical reasoning is required to approach briefs and problem-solve to reach a conclusion.
- Error checking: error checking is important for technical writers to ensure good attention to detail in their work.
- Communication skills: technical writers must be excellent communicators both verbally and written communication.
For more information about the best testing battery for hiring a technical writer, our technical writer test guide is a great resource.