Once you take an interest in technical communication and documentation you’ll quickly discover that’s it’s an “endless country,” really. There is so much to learn and track since both the market and the technology changes constantly. But this does not mean that you can learn things randomly and become a successful technical communicator. Actually there’s a better way that I call the “Learning Pyramid” which requires you establish a wide base of learning first and keep on building the upper layers on top of such a strong foundation. Each layer of this pyramid supports the more specialized layer established on top it.
LAYER 1 — THE BASE: Establish your basic linguistic skills, appropriate for the language you are writing with. For example, for English speakers and writers, it is important to learn the basic difference between “Active Voice” and “Passive Voice,” or to learn the different types of clauses and the difference it makes to start your sentences with a dependent clause, etc.
LAYER 2 — INDUSTRY LANDSCAPE: Next, you need to learn the landscape, so to speak. You need to learn where technical communication stands with respect to other industries; different types of business writing and documentation opportunities that exists out there; various career paths as an author and manager; various kinds of hi-tech and low-tech documents, etc.
LAYER 3 — TOOLS: Now you need to learn how to use the tools of the trade like the Microsoft Office Suite; FrameMaker; all kinds of help authoring software; graphic editing software like Photoshop and Illustrator; HTML editors like Dreamweaver; the almost endless variety of online resources, etc.
LAYER 4 — BUSINESS SKILLS: The last and perhaps the most important layer of the “Learning Pyramid” consists of the knowledge of business and marketing practices that you need to learn to become a successful communicator. This layers requires you to learn not only how to work as part of a team in a hi-tech company (for example), but also how to market and negotiate your services if you are working as a freelancer.
Once you have all the layers in place you’d still need to go back from time to time and do some minor repairs and updates since everything in life needs maintenance, including even our basic linguistic skills. But the more you do it, the easier such maintenance work becomes. If you start establishing your wide base today you’d be amazed the kind of professional heights you can scale with your “Learning Pyramid” tomorrow. It’s your dependable ladder to success.