How to be a great Documentation Engineer

Writing technical documentation is a job that many folks can do fairly well. However, if you want to be the best, then you must take your work to the next level. If you are already a Documentation Engineer you know that the job involves more than just writing. It takes technical acumen, people skills, project management skills, the ability to distill complex information into clear, concise content, and much more. But, you can do more to reach the next level.

Use the product

Start using the product as soon as possible. Learn everything you can. Read the existing customer documentation. Read the internal documentation. Take training. This might sound obvious, but I have seen many writers work on documentation without ever touching the product!

Think holistically

You produce content for customers. You see what you are documenting (such as software) from their viewpoint. You will notice many things. You can ignore them. But, that is a mistake. Bring them to the attention of others (following proper protocol, of course!). For example:

Alert your UX team if:

  • The software is confusing.
  • You find inconsistencies in language.
  • Messages are poorly worded, confusing, or lack detail.

Alert the Engineering team if:

  • You find bugs.
  • You find inconsistencies in the way the product works.

Alert Product Management if:

  • You have ideas to improve the product.
  • You see gaps in the documentation.
  • You think of ways to drive product adoption.

Share your knowledge:

  • Document everything! This creates reference material and a historical record for others.
  • Attended a webinar? Went to a conference? Read a great article? Present a summary of what you learned to your colleagues.

Get involved

It is easy to get stuck in your silo, documenting content. If you want to stand out, get involved with others.

  • Find out how you can help your colleagues. If updating documentation helps your customer service team, do it. If including details ensures the engineering team gets fewer customer issues, do it. If collaborating with QE on test cases helps automation, do it.
  • Join bug bashes. When the engineering team needs volunteers to walk through functionality to find issues, join them. You will build rapport, help them find issues, and improve your documentation as you learn more!
  • Volunteer to help others, even if it is outside your role. Your development team is in a crunch; Can you help? Someone is planning an event; Ask if you can participate.
  • If your company has an off-site event that’s local to you, go! Get to know your colleagues.

Additional ideas

  • Be positive and enthusiastic. People enjoy working with those with a great attitude.
  • Be open to feedback. You’re all on the same team, working to create the best overall product.
  • Collaborate! More people means more ideas, more eyes, more everything.
  • Be proactive. Go get the work! If you have a few extra minutes, make something better. Look for the work that no one else is doing and do it! Is there a backlog? Does your content need improvement? Does your team need resources to work better? Do it, find it.

Innovate

Always look for ways to do things better. Can you automate? Does your team’s onboarding content need to be updated? Is your internal wiki in need of updating?

Conclusion (with humble brag)

I joined my company five months ago. This is really not intended to be a brag. I want to share how much you can do in a short time to make that impact. In the past five months, I have:

  • Created a style guide.
  • Completed over 200 backlog Jiras.
  • Participated in two major releases.
  • Planned a user research project.
  • Embedded myself in an engineering team.
  • Implemented a style checker (with a colleague who helped create a great installation program).
  • Contributed to a thorough README for our documentation system.
  • Participated in a migration to AsciiDoc and a new website.
  • Rewritten a section of documentation that was a priority (working closely with the Product Manager).
  • Updated onboarding information, and more!

I do all this because I love what I do. I also work for a great organization with incredible people. I come to work every day full of enthusiasm and ready to accomplish as much as humanly possible to make things better for our customers, and to help our company succeed. In the end, this will hopefully lead to my own success as well.

It can lead to yours as well!

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