Someone asked me, "So, what are you?"
"A technical writer."
"Eh, and what’s that?"
I realised that the noun phrase technical writer does not in itself mean anything at all unless it is described through attributes. So, what are the attributes of a technical writer?
1. A technical writer understands what is being documented. The writer takes on the role of the reader, and learns everything that a normal reader would know, or want to know. The writer has domain knowledge and product knowledge.
2. A technical writer has a flair for words, but neither sends the readers scurrying for a dictionary nor regurgitates all the knowledge gleaned from research. The writer documents only that much information as is needed by the readers, and does so in a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact manner. The writer knows the target audience well enough to be able to include some items of information and leave out some others. The writer engages in a dialogue with the reader, not in a monologue that showcases the extent of the writer’s knowledge.
3. A technical writer takes ownership of documents, but is so self-effacing that no one can tell who wrote the document. The writer sets aside the individualistic streak and follows a straitjacketed style guide. The writer knows and believes in the concept of uniformity.
4. A technical writer works smart. The writer knows the tools of the trade and leverages them. The writer is constantly in tune with emerging trends in authoring, and incorporates them in the work.
If I were to summarise these points, I would say that a technical writer is a language expert who understands the domain and product, has no problems with non-visibility, and makes intelligent use of tools and techniques to produce documents that make a reader go, "Ah, I see".