What Competence Looks Like

It might appear that I make a lot of mistakes, given some of my posts (here and here, for example). You might wonder, given the various hiccups I write about, whether I’m able to perform my job adequately. I imagine some professional tech writers among you might read this blog occasionally and shout, “You can’t keep sharing these stories! You’ll make us look incompetent!” Very well. Today I’ll explain how I manage to keep my job. There is a point here, trust me.

Let’s start with something obvious: if I had nothing useful to say, you wouldn’t be here reading now, would you? 🙂 I have had a fun and diverse tech writing career, which allows me to write about many different types of technical writing experiences from multiple perspectives. And while I try not to brag here, my diverse skill set and specialized technical knowledge (aerospace) have ensured that I have people contacting me for writing/editorial assistance; I don’t have to market my services very often.

More to the point, I can deliver good work. “Good” in this case includes some of the following attributes:

  • Is delivered on time or early.
  • Includes few to no spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors.
  • Makes the point(s) that the customer wants made.
  • Is organized in a way that makes the content flow logically.
  • Is technically correct or, where I have doubts, is flagged to ensure that a subject matter expert confirms its accuracy.
  • Is presented in an orderly, aesthetically pleasing fashion, with no more than two fonts on the page and effective graphics or other visual aids presented in an appropriate fashion.
  • Is communicated properly to the individuals who need it, along with any pending questions or concerns.
  • Is written in a style appropriate to the audience, content, and delivery format.
  • Is written clearly and directly (unless murkiness is called for).
  • Is provided in a spirit of politeness, professionalism, and (usually) good humor. I know managers who prefer positive attitudes to competence, assuming that they can fix the latter situation with training.

So why do I write about all my screw-ups?

From the beginning of writing this blog (almost six years ago now!), I wanted to share my insights and observations about the world of work, specifically the business realities of being a professional technical writer, warts and all. Sharing my little foibles with you is partly an effort to make my writing somewhat entertaining, partly a reality check for someone who thinks X career is “perfect,” and partly used as an opportunity to show that even full-time technical writers can make mistakes and how to recover from them. My theory is that you can go anywhere for advice on how to write a resume or format a white paper, from books to other blogs. The times we really need advice, though, are for those situations that aren’t in the textbooks. In those situations, I’m here to help.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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