In the previous post, Professional Writing Job Functions, we looked at what professional writers do. In this post, we will look at the functional competencies that allow a professional writer to complete these job functions successfully. Functional competency is the knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics required to fulfill required job tasks, duties or responsibilities. The following competencies predict success in completing the job functions of a general professional writing position. In other words, if you have these competencies you are more likely to successfully complete professional writing projects.
All of us have strengths and weaknesses. At Profwrite Inc., we expect our writers to understand weaknesses that impact the quality of their work, and to seek support so the weakness does not impact documents being submitted to clients. We expect writers to develop as professionals, creating a plan to address areas in which they need improvement. One way to chart your development is to assess your workplace, technical, and writing competencies. In what areas are you satisfied with you competency level? In what areas do you need to improve?
The following general competencies are essential for communicators in the 21st century knowledge economy. These workplace competencies are important for workers who have or hope to have leadership and communication roles. To be successful, knowledge economy professionals, whether a writer or not, should have the ability to
- Write Clearly— Communication specialist must be able to write usable documents that adhere to the 3 Cs, i.e. they must write documents that are clear, concise, and complete.
- Collaborate— Working with teams is important in 21st century professional contexts. The image of the writer struggling alone to complete a manuscript does not apply to professional writing contexts. You have to be able to collaborate on projects.
- Assess & Learn Technology— Whether you write about technology or not, you have to be able to adapt to changing digital publication software and platforms. An interest in and an ability to effectively use technology is a pre-requisite for a successful career as a technical communicator.
- Take Initiative— Initiative is not just taking responsibility for your assignment, but investing your effort in a project as a whole. Professional writers must take responsibility for completing projects. You are responsible for doing the work to complete the project successfully. You cannot wait to be told what to do and when to do it, but successful professional writers also show initiative by identifying problems and taking steps to proactively solve them. If you see a problem in processes or documents, make the adjustments or discuss it with your team leader.
- Evaluate Your Own & Others’ Work— As the writing expert, you have to be able to evaluate your work and your colleagues’ work. Skills in editing, information design, and writing basics help professional writers evaluate documents.
- Present— Good presentation skills allow you to articulate the value of your work to management, colleagues, and/or clients.
Technical Competencies refer to knowledge, skills, abilities, and use of tools associated with particular activities and tasks. Professional writers need technical competencies with technology and writing.
Most of the documents you produce will be shared digitally. Even printable documents have a digital life as pdfs. In order to be successful as a professional writer, you must have some basic proficiencies in writing and publishing technologies. At minimum, professional writers will have to use technology to
- Write— Technology must enter into the writing process. You have to produce digital documents to share for editing and publication. You can also use technology to outline, collaborate, and edit documents.
- Edit— Professional writers often find themselves taking on editing responsibilities for a team or department. Editing usually takes place in word processing programs.
- Create Documents in Various Media— Professional writers should be able to create visual and multimedia documents. At minimum, you will have to create visual aids like flowcharts and graphs. Writing jobs increasingly require some familiarity with filmmaking, video editing, and video composition.
- Publish on Internet Platforms— Professional writers have to publish documents on the Intranet and/or Internet. You should be familiar with technologies for publishing on websites, blogs, and social media platforms.
Professional writers must be proficient in the writing processes. Writing competencies go beyond simply writing content. Writing is a complex process that starts with research and knowledge development and ends with a carefully designed document ready for publication.
Professional writers must have the ability to
- Develop Content Knowledge— Professional writers are usually intellectually curious. They are interested in learning about content areas they don’t know well. Some writers specialize in broad areas like healthcare, scientific research, business, or technology. They build their expertise and target jobs writing in these content areas.
- Research— Professional writers must be able to employ a range of research methods, including interviews, observation, and surveys.
- Write in a Number of Genres— Professional writers need a strong foundation in genres like reports, processes, and procedures. The foundation allows you to adapt the features of familiar genres to the needs of a project.
- Write with Mechanical & Stylistic Accuracy— You have to be a “good” writer. You don’t have to excel at each aspect of writing, but should be able to identify mechanical and stylistic inaccuracies in your work.
- Design Information-– Documents should be designed to best achieve their goals. Professional writers are not just content writers. They have to design information to communicate to the target audience. Style guides are one way we design information.
Adapted from Rainey, Kenneth T., Roy K.Turner, and David Dayton. “Do Curricula Correspond to Managerial Expectations? Core Competencies for Technical Communicators." Technical Communication 52.3 2005, 323–352.