In this edition, we interact with Ingrid Nelson, a past Vice President (2007 – 2011) of the Swedish Technical Writer’s Association (Föreningen Teknisk Information www.teknikinformatoren.se).
Hailing from Linköping – Sweden, she has been in the field of Technical Communication for over 15 years. In the past she has worked for Ericsson and Cambio Healthcare Systems as the Lead Technical Writer.
Q1. Can you tell us briefly how you got into Technical Writing?
A: Back in 1997, I was working as a teacher at an adult training center. One day I saw a job advertisement from Ericsson (a large Swedish telecom company) for the position of a Technical Writer. I hadn’t really heard about this profession before, but it sounded like an interesting combination of pedagogical, linguistic and structural skills. I applied, got the job, liked it, and I have worked ever since in the field of technical communication. The companies I have worked with are in the IT business and my main focus has been manuals for software, not for hardware or machinery.
Q2. What do you think are the best practices in Technical Writing?
A: As Technical Writer, it is our job to serve the readers with the information they need, which is not necessarily the same as the total amount of information coming from specifications, requirements, demos, from developers, product specialists etc. Sometimes our job is to dig up the missing pieces of information and add them. Sometimes our job is the opposite: to remove information that may be interesting from a system point of view but that the reader should not be bothered with it. As a technical writer you need to be able to identify both these categories of information.
In my opinion a good Technical Writer should be:
- Careful – pay attention to details, double-check, proof-read, test your instructions, have them tested by others.
- Brave – don’t hesitate to pose “stupid” question. Sometimes this might highlight a design detail overlooked by everybody else.
- Resilient – keep up the good work, all the way across the finishing line. The tech writer is usually among the last contributors in a project and involved right up until delivery.
But… always use your own judgment and common sense. Be careful but remember that “perfect” is probably too expensive, so realize when it is “good enough”. Be brave and ask questions but don’t bring everything up for discussion. Be resilient but don’t blame yourself if the deadline seems impossible – instead make sure you get involved earlier in the next project.
Q3. What challenges do you face when working with remote or virtual teams? How do you think we can overcome these challenges?
A: I worked for several years in a documentation team with members in Sweden, Sri Lanka and the UK. One crucial factor is to create a good working climate even though you may never have met the other team members in person. In my experience it is totally possible to get to know each other and to work efficiently, using tools such as Skype, Lync, video conferences etc.
Another important success factor is to structure the work flows so that the processes are clear and well established. You neither want to forget things, nor doing them twice.
The time zone difference may seem like an obstacle. In the Sweden – Sri Lanka case the office hours only overlap with 4-5 hours. But this can also be used to your advantage, since at least someone from the team is present 12-13 hours each day.
Q4. You have been a past Vice President of the Swedish Technical Writer’s Association (FTI). Can you briefly tell us how and what you have accomplished there?
A: Almost as soon as I started in Technical Writing, I joined the FTI (Föreningen Teknisk Information). In 2007 I was elected a member of the board member and I had the position as the Vice President for four years. The society has been a valuable networking forum for me and I wanted to contribute. At that point, the FTI was going through a phase of low activity and low membership, but we managed to revive the society, among other things by offering an interesting Conference Program and by a re-vamping the website. The FTI was founded in 1964 and in 2014 we celebrated the 50th anniversary. I am happy to report that at the jubilee dinner, we had one of the founding members among the speakers!
Q5. How can a Technical Writer improve their skills? What opportunities can an Association such as FTI and STC open/help the member?
A: Being a technical writer usually means that you are a minority (if not alone) at your workplace, outnumbered by developers, testers, project leaders, architects etc. Meeting other tech writers, regardless of company or line of business, is very rewarding since our daily challenges and experiences are surprisingly similar.
At FTI we have an annual two-day conference. The speakers come from smaller and larger companies, research and development, universities, consultant firms etc. The presentations cover a broad range of topics. There are also some sessions with group discussions structured into a number of themes, as well as slots in the program for personal networking. The conference is usually attended by 100-120 people, which is quite a good turnout considering that FTI has around 350 members.
Q6. Any concluding thoughts?
Thank you very much for this opportunity and I wish STC India success in all its endeavors!
On behalf of the STC India, the Indus Team would like to thank Ingrid for sharing her experience, thoughts and ideas. Hope she will associate with STC India again in the future.