More exciting than you think. Unless you are already a technical writer, and in that case you were already excited by the idea. Integrated Technical Writing is what folks who decided to call themselves “Content Strategists” have been yearning for all these years.
Yes, I’ve been known to lament that pretty much anyone can slap that label on and prance about calling themselves a content strategist, and it’s true. But if you can find a company whose position is fair and realistic, then integrating content and communication really is that strategy. And it’s fantastic.
I am with a company now, writing proposals for contracts with the government, local, state, and federal, and we GET IT. We totally get it.
I have embraced technical, marketing, and promotional collateral in such a way that I legitimately just put a woman in a sweet yoga pose on the front page of a proposal for the Department of Information Technology for the state where I work. Yes, indeedy. And the tag line is: “She’s flexible, but our standards aren’t.” It’s amazing. And we are going to win a $30 million contract as a result.
We are going to win it because our technical expertise is incredible, yes, but also because we wrote a top-notch proposal that sings marketing through and through.
Integrated Technical Communications has the key language built in:
It integrates the technical componentry with the Communication that needs to be done to sell. And selling is everything. If you cannot learn to operate the machine, the machine is useless.
Sharpen your pencil. Your black or yellow or blue or green pencil. Your integrated pencil. Learn the 5 Ws of online help. Learn the tools of the trade and some design principles. But importantly, learn how they all fit together and have fun blending and blending.
Integration is not just for populations and it isn’t a battle, that’s for sure.
It’s logical and it works, and NOW you can be a content strategist.
Back when I was an undergrad (please do not stop and linger
long enough to consider how long ago that was), and I declared that I would be
an “English major,” that declaration struck fear in the hearts of many. It did
so because to those not-so-intrepid folks, that meant I believed, in folly,
that I could write the Great American Novel, or that I would be content living
a life for a few years as a starving poet, only to eventually cave in and
become a teacher. My mother was a high school English teacher. Her mother was a
sixth grade English teacher. The path appeared to have been laid.
I, however, had no real intention of becoming a traditional
high school English teacher. I did enjoy a stint for a two-year period as a “teaching
artist” at a performing arts magnet school where I had the luxury of teaching creative
nonfiction for two and a half hours each afternoon, but I seriously cannot put
that in the same bucket as mapping out rubrics for Huckleberry Finn or Hamlet for
Instead, that time provided me with a fantastic foundation
for my own writing, which I still do (you are reading some of it at this
moment), and the luxury of my mornings free. It was a great time. It launched
me into other cool projects, and I got to work with aspiring writers without
ever having to get my teaching certificate. I’ll take that as a win.
I moved through writing positions, always knowing what those
early doubters knew: people think writing is easy, until it isn’t.
It is only in fairly recent history that writers have
dovetailed so well with users and designers. (I have another post about this,
so take a look at some older posts and you’ll see my position on UX and writing
– I was ahead of the curve!) User Experience, or UX, was for a while considered
to be a design concept, not a language one. Few people thought that the words
themselves contained meaning. Most believed that an arrow was just an arrow –
it could point users to what they needed, and whether it contained text was of
no importance. That is, we thought that it didn’t matter what the pop-up or tab
had written on it, just that there was a pop-up or tab. It’s not until we had
dozens of those tabs from which to choose that things got murky.
But those of us who focus on words intervened to disagree.
We started to ask, would users rather “click” or “select?” Is it a “flyer” or a
“flier?” Are we really going to have yet another discussion about “dropdown”
versus “pulldown?” We absolutely are going to have that discussion. And our
customers will be glad we did. That disruptive error message a user gets – if
it isn’t too disruptive, a customer won’t give up on using the software we have
so lovingly designed. So, while marketing copywriters are diligently working to
bring us customers, if we as tech writers and UX writers ensure a smooth
journey through the software, we can keep those customers around for a long,
long time. They will have had meaningful interactions with our product and our
Let the marketers worry about conversion. Let the us, as UX
and Tech writers, worry about facilitation.
One of the things I have enjoyed most about technical writing
is just that – facilitation. I often say that a big part of my job is “smoothing
out the pain points” for those who use my software. I joke that no one reads
the doc, but that is not entirely true. They read the doc when they have a
specific need. That need is at installation: when they are brand-new and want
to ramp up fast. Or, they read it when they hit a trouble spot: they want a
solution to a problem. But there is a whole lot of “doc” in the interim, and
that doc is within the product itself – the entirety of the product design
contains compelling microcopy (or sometimes the microcopy is the opposite of
compelling, let’s be honest). Prioritizing the user journey not just visually,
but textually, a good writer can work with a good designer, and hit the jackpot,
Extremely good UX means an extremely satisfied customer. A
customer whose needs are highlighted by thoughtful text is one who sees a
compelling product, I assure you. I feel the same way about technical documentation.
If the tech doc supports a well-crafted product, and supports it concisely, there
is little need for a stressful support call. Not all software (or any other
product, for that matter) can be so well designed that it needs no
documentation whatsoever. What we must do as writers in all realms is to create
an experience, from microcopy to large-scale content, that is smooth and clean.
If we do that, we’ll have done our jobs well. We will have made not just copy,