Universal Skills

I would once again like to thank Nevin in Ireland for sending me a raft of thought-provoking questions. I believe today’s posting will cover the last of the lot. Nevin, I hope you and the rest of my readers have gotten some good use out of my answers. The last question he asked is about “Skills or attitudes which transcend trends and time but which can be useful for success in this field.” First, I’ll direct all of you to my post regarding skills for being a freelancer (go ahead, I’ll wait).

So, on the skill side, we have practical matters, such as:

  • Customer service
  • Technical proficiency
  • Calendar management
  • Budgeting
  • Negotiating
  • Invoicing
  • Networking
  • Marketing

Under behaviors and attitudes, the list runs something like this:

  • Love what you do
  • Willingness to accept risk and responsibility
  • Self-starting and determination
  • Reputation management (doing good work, refraining from self-sabotage)
  • Optimism
  • Politeness and manners
  • Proper communication etiquette
  • Develop a support network

Given all that, are there skills, behaviors, or attitudes that transcend the employee/freelancer divide? Certainly! Regardless of where you go, an effective technical communicator needs to be able to work well on his/her own and with teams. That requires a mix of soft skills, some of which I covered under a reply to a different Nevin question. There are also some personal attributes that translate well across multiple environments such as adaptability; a willingness to learn, and putting in the time to avoid bad writing; and learning the tools needed to do the job.

In short, because the writer is often such a singular contributor–or, sadly, considered easily dispensable because after all, “everyone can write, right?”–it’s worth taking the time to being the type of worker and person others want to have working with or for them. Are you pleasant? Productive? Helpful? Flexible? You will, of course, have your own way of doing things and demonstrating these attributes. You’re there to produce words that get the job done. How easily those words can be produced often depend on how well you work with others. And quite frankly, that sort of behavior transcends the workplace.

Be a good person. That’s the best “universal” advice I can offer.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
This entry was posted in careers, personal, philosophy, technical writing, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Universal Skills

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    “Be a good person” — yes, that’s the single best piece of advice you can give.

    I think I’d add one other attribute that’s needed in our field: being a quick study. You’ll have a lot of technical information thrown at you, probably covering a wide variety of topics, and you’ll have to act on it quickly. (The first-draft deadline is next week.) The faster you can assimilate the information and build a working — if not detailed — knowledge, the better. Can we teach ourselves to be a “quick study”? I’m not sure, but I think so. At any rate, it’s an important skill to have.

  2. Bart Leahy says:

    Good point, Larry! Thanks for the addition and, as always, thanks for reading!

  3. If you’re working in a field where “be a good person” isn’t a mandatory skill, you need to switch to another line of work, pronto.

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