Ask a Technical Writer

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If you work for an agency that uses Spillman products, the chances are that you have used some of the materials created by the Spillman Documentation department. The folks in Documentation face the challenge of taking complex software information and presenting it in a clear way for all types of users. We thought it would be fun to use this month’s Spillman Spotlight blog to profile Katie Armstrong, who is one of our fabulous technical writers. She talks about being a grammar nerd, how much of her day is actually spent writing, and a “burger of the month” club. Where do we sign up for that last one?

What is a technical writer responsible for at Spillman? What types of things does the Documentation department produce?

Katie: We write all of the official manuals for each of our products, along with quick cards, user tips, and eLearning tutorials.

What do you like most about your job?

Katie: I like the challenge of taking a lot of difficult information and figuring out the best way to structure it and write about it so that it is clear and hopefully easy for our customers to understand.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Katie: The hardest part is that I’m not a developer, and I don’t have first-hand experience using our products. I have to rely a lot on the expertise of every department at Spillman, and then I also have to try and put myself in the customers’ shoes and determine what information they need.

Is there anything our readers might find surprising about your job?

Katie: People always think we know all the grammar rules (and we do), but we also know that grammar has a lot to do with context, so there’s not always a clear-cut answer and we sometimes debate the best approach to take. Yep, we’re word nerds, but I guess that’s probably not surprising.

What does a regular work day look like for you?

Katie: My day usually begins by meeting with different development teams as part of their morning standup. I find out what they’re working on and report back about what I’m writing. It also gives me a chance to ask questions about the software. I sometimes sit in on conference calls with customers who are providing us with feedback on new products they are testing, and I also attend other planning meetings. You might be surprised that I typically spend only about one-third of my time actually writing. The rest is spent researching, talking to experts, and updating our existing documentation, with a few Diet Coke breaks sprinkled in.

What does the documentation department do for fun?

Katie: We used to have a Burger of the Month club where we visited different restaurants in the area and rated their burgers based on several important factors (meat, buns, lettuce, and fries), but we recently lost our hamburger connoisseur to the R&D department. Now we’re trying to decide if we want to become the Burrito of the Month club or the Barbecue of the Month club. Both sound so appealing!

A big thanks to Katie for taking a moment to answer our questions!