“So, Lynne what do you do for a living?”
“Oh, I work as a technical author.”
“Really? What’s that?”
“I write help guides for software applications.”
“You must be very clever. I’m useless with computers!”
I have lost count of the amount of times I have had this conversation with new friends and acquaintances. When I was first approached by Armada to work as a technical author even I had to look up the job title. Every year when I renew my car insurance the person on the end of the phone is surprised when ‘technical author’ appears in their dropdown of job titles (I am hoping that this make me low risk!). So, I thought I would use my blog to clarify and demystify my little micro world of technical writing.
My name is Lynne, I have worked as a technical author for Armada for four years. I am also a wife and mum of four (two of my babies are furry!). This is a rundown of my typical day.
Technical author…The start
My day starts at 6.15am. It has to be fairly regimented and routine; the fall out of a missed school bus does not bear thinking about! After dropping off my kids at a cold and often dark bus stop, I get to the office at around 7.30am.
Technical author…The work
I am always the first person in the office and usually eat my breakfast once I get to my desk.
The nature of my project work means that it offers great flexibility in working hours. I tend to work as a sole technical author on projects so I am not reliant on the rest of the team being around or even restricted by nine to five office hours.
With some caffeine motivation, I check my ‘to-do’ list and my emails. At this time in the morning it is easy to forget your own name let alone what work you need to complete today. Sometimes it feels like I am at the bottom of my client’s ‘to-do’ list and the inbox can be a little baron until deadlines start to loom!
I am currently working on a project that involves transferring over some legacy documentation from Robohelp 7 into a Confluence wiki. The documentation also needs to be updated using developer notes. I tend to start my day by proof reading the previous day’s work. A fresh pair of eyes can usually spot a few badly constructed sentences, extra spaces and missed full stops.
Once I have familiarised myself with the project topic I get stuck into writing for a couple of hours. I am constantly adding to a list of questions to ask the client; functions that need to be clarified, features that I have limited access to or glitches in their system. I find it easier to contact the client weekly with a batch of questions rather than bombard them daily. Every client is different and this is usually a method worked out early on in each project.
Today is client catch up day so I have arranged an online meeting. Sometimes it is necessary to meet face to face but online meetings and phone calls are sometimes more efficient. I can also record whatever we run through, which can be useful for referral later.
Using the online meeting to demonstrate the procedures I am working on makes going through my questions much quicker than via an email exchange and after an hour we have managed to cover all of my outstanding questions. The rest of the morning is now spent transferring my newfound information into the documentation.
Technical author…The lunch break
I am lucky that my house only a 10 minute drive from the office, so most days I go home for a sandwich and let my dog out for a run in the garden. I use my lunch break to wake up my mind and breathe some fresh air. It is very important to have a break away from the desk and the screen. There are usually plenty of distractions at home; the fallout from the morning rush and usually some little present from the cat to clear up!
Technical author…The homestretch
In the afternoon, after continuing with my own project, I usually set aside some time to go through a colleague’s work. As a team, it is definitely beneficial to proof read each other’s work and bounce ideas off each other.
Today I am proof reading George’s health and safety e-learning project on drug and alcohol awareness in the workplace. I am enlightened!
Checking my emails again, I have been contacted by an old client to add some updates to their documentation. I check the terms of our contract to clarify our agreement on documentation updates. The client agrees to the hourly rate and I schedule the updates for next week.
Technical author…Preparing for another day
I always like to end my working day by writing another ‘to-do’ list, tidying my desk and completing my timesheet. Preparing for the next working day means that I can get stuck straight in when I arrive at my desk.
I leave the office at around 4pm.
Unlike my younger colleagues and their vast expanse of free time, I have to keep going once I get home. Although I would not say it is that hard to carry on, I just don’t sit down!
The dog looks at me with excited eyes as I pull on my wellies. Living in the country and very close to the Midland canal system, walking the dog is a great pleasure in the summer months but all a bit of a chore when we have damp, cold, short days. Think muddy paws, hi Vis jacket, torch, woolly hat and a red nose!
I quickly cook dinner while catching up on Facebook gossip and listening to Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 show. The hungry children start walking through the door at 5pm and we catch up with each other over the kitchen table. Quite often, they will need collecting from sports practice or a match. This can make the evening routine slightly more chaotic and the dog has to cross his legs a little longer!
Technical author…Me time
Me time finally arrives at around 7pm. After sitting at a desk for most of the day, I like to move my weary body. Boxing, yoga, weight lifting, circuit class and ballet are all included in my weekly schedule. Healthy body, healthy mind:). This is also a great opportunity to laugh and gossip with friends.
I finally sit down again at around 9pm to catch up with my husband in front of the TV with a warmed up dinner on my lap. He enjoys watching all the current American shows but I insist that he saves ‘The Walking Dead’ to watch with me. I zombie walk up to bed at around 10.30pm, I might manage a chapter of my book before falling asleep. I love to read but it can feel like a busman’s holiday when you spend a lot of your working day reading. I currently have two books on the go: ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and Khaled Hosseini’s ‘And the Mountains Echoed’. My daughter jokes that I take years to finish a book!
Well there you have it a little insight into the life of a Bromsgrove technical author.
If you want to train to be a technical author, contact Armada Training.