7 Habits of Highly Effective Technical Communicators

– Sandhya,
President – STC India Chapter

Prez talkI wondered what to write in my penultimate article to all of you. I wondered if I have made any difference to our community. If I’ve managed to make a minor dent in a paradigm shift away from the importance of tools and years of experience to the importance of basic technical communication and leadership skills, I’d be thrilled.

A presentation I had made at an STC Regional Conference on the seven basic principles to be a world-class technical communicator encapsulates my message. If this message resonates with a few of you, I’ll feel satisfied. Do let me know your thoughts over email, or better still, in person, at the best ever STC Conference that will take place from December 3-5 this year in Bangalore.

With due regard to Stephen Covey, I propounded that we need to look at “visible skills” and then “invisible skills.”


Habit 1: Hone your core skill
Habit 2: Specialise
Habit 3: Professionalism (had to have an “ism”)


Habit 4: Reliability
Habit 5: Act global
Habit 6: Make a difference

And finally …

Habit 7: Self-drive

Visible skills

Habit 1: Hone your core skill

Your core skill as a technical communicator is a mastery over the English language: written and spoken. Grammar should be immaculate followed by an understanding of context and style. You may ask why that is critical as you are well-versed in technology. You could use a spellchecker for grammar and perhaps use editors on your team to fix style issues. My answer: Your language skills are still the primary root of your career. You may be compared with native English writers and should hold your ground. How do you hone your language skills? Read. Speak. Practice.

Habit 2: Specialise in a domain

You can make a greater impact on your career growth if you gain domain knowledge in a particular area over the years or specialize in an area of technical communication.

Examples of domains:

  • Technology: software applications, networking, telecommunications, middleware, databases, semiconductors, CRM, SAP
  • Industry: banking and financial applications, aerospace, healthcare in a functional area

Examples of technical communication specialisation:

  • Editing, Graphics, Usability, Production, Instructional Design, Localisation, Internationalisation, Knowledge Management

Habit 3: Professionalism (had to have an “ism”)

The first two skills will help you to be good at your work. But it’s not enough just to be good at your work. You need to be a good professional too, and that involves some soft skills (those dreaded words!).

  • Understand your office culture and work within its values.
  • Take notes. Memory can be fallible.
  • Ask questions. You need to understand, and if you’ve understood, need to demonstrate that you have understood.
  • Respect confidentiality. An easy way to lose trust is to repeat information given just to you or to forward sensitive mails marked to you.
  • Demonstrate maturity, objectivity, good judgment.
  • Do not indulge in office gossip. See my earlier PrezTalk article on Gossip.

Invisible skills

Habit 4: Reliability

Fill in the blanks: A rolling stone gathers no _ _ _ _
Think of people in your organization. Whom do you rely on? See Habit 2, Specialise. You can only do this if you:

  • Work at least five years in a company
  • Respond to emails promptly
  • Meet your commitments, and if there are issues…
  • Escalate quickly
  • Manage perceptions
  • Be consistent          … and so on and so forth

Habit 5: Act global

Interact well across people, teams, and cultures.

  • Attack the problem and not the person
  • Introspect when you get feedback
  • Don’t discount yourself, others, your work, the situation
  • This is a job! Maintain perspective.

Also see Habit 3, Professionalism. And Habit 4, Reliability

Habit 6: Make a difference

To your documents, your products, your team, your manager, your customer, your stakeholders.

    1. Do an environment scan
    2. Understand pain points
    3. Understand how decisions are made
    4. Ask how you can help
    5. Align the wheels—individual, team, company
    6. Suggest process improvement
    7. Innovate on information

And finally …

Habit 7: Self-drive

Your manager or your company cannot motivate you. They can only create a conducive environment where you can achieve your potential. Then it’s up to you. So be:

  • Self-motivated
  • Self-managed
  • Self-directed
  • Self-learning

Take mentoring and coaching as required to become a well-rounded, independent professional.
I believe that there are many top-notch technical communicators and teams in India who deserve recognition, challenges, and to be treated on par with technical communicators anywhere in the world.

I can’t top that line, so I invite you again to the STC conference. If you haven’t registered for the conference yet, you can do so at http://www.stc-india.org/conferences/STC-Bang-2009/registration.html. A lot of detail has gone into this conference and we look forward to seeing you there.


  1. This article is indeed very informative. Articles and experiences like these will act as stepping stones for many upcoming Technical Writers.

  2. This is a very good article for aspiring and junior tech writers. They should strive to achieve the specific skills described to enhance their career prospects.

    Pramod Chandra

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