How To Work With Automation As A Technical Writer

2022-07-25 17:04:33
Sara Sparrow
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As a technical writer, you won't typically have dealt with creating software in the course of your work. Times have changed though, and now there's a greater demand for automation in the technical field. If you've never worked with automation before, the thought of learning how to use it will feel somewhat intimidating.

However, that doesn't have to be the case. You can gain a lot of benefits by adopting automation in technical writing, so it's in your best interest to learn how this works. You'll see that you can easily pick up the skills needed, so you can be ahead of the pack.

What Is Automation?

The first thing you need to do is understand exactly what automation actually is. In terms of technical writing, it's the automated collection, formatting and checking of data. “Automation is most often used when you're looking to reduce the time and effort spent on the task” says technical writer Tim Pierce, from Australian Reviewer and Assignment service. “As such, automation allows writers to focus on the other tasks that they need to tackle.”

There are lots of ways that automation can be used in your field. You may already be using it, such as by using the F4 key in Microsoft Work to repeat the last command you wrote. Generally, automation in technical writing is on the simpler side, so it's not that hard to pick up.

Automation in technical writing won't be for the writing itself, but more for the gathering of information that you need to do your job. You'll be looking to avoid having to do tasks manually, if you can help it. Many writers and coders say that if you have to do something more than twice, you should automate it.

An Automation Example

So, how could automation work for you as a technical writer? Here's an example of how it could be put to use.

If you have a large amount of information stored in a database, then you can benefit from automation. You can create an automation solution that offers lots of benefits, such as formatting data in a way that's easy to retrieve, make the process repeatable so it can be used again and again, and the application itself could be used for other uses if needed.

How you do this will depend on exactly how the data is stored, and how you want to be able to retrieve it. “A Visual Basic application can help you retrieve data” says Fiona Downes, a business blogger with Rated Writing and Via Writing. “This is usually best for companies that don't have a front end interface”. You can modify this to retrieve information in a variety of different formats, such as HTML, XML, and so on.

You can use automation across all kinds of programs to get what you need. The most common one you'll probably use is Microsoft Word. This will be the program you're most commonly using, and it's highly customizable. Most programs you'll be using will have some capability to be customized, and you can take advantage of that.

How To Start Using Automation

If the idea of automation still feels somewhat out of your reach, don't worry. Here are some tips that will help you get started.

Address one problem at a time: This is vital when you're just starting out. It's easy to see all the tasks that you could automate, and try to tackle them all at once. However, you'll want to pick one task and focus on that. Once you've automated it and are happy with how it works, you'll want to then start looking at expanding the scope.

Don't worry about the lifespan of your tool: Depending on your needs, you'll see that some tools are only going to be useful for a limited time. “Just because you'll use a tool temporarily, doesn't mean that it isn't worth creating” says Graham Saunders, a technical manager at Academ Advisor and Writing Populist. “If it saves you time in the long run, then it's worth making.”

Don't try and cover all the bases: Typically, you'll be creating an automation tool that has a very specific use and audience. As such, you don't need to try and cover all the bases with it. For example, it may not be necessary to try and implement extensive error checking or online help. Don't waste time on these kinds of features, if they're not going to be needed.

Consider your specific needs: A technical writer is one of the best people to handle creating new automation tools, as they know what it is that a writer needs. As such, really consider what it is you're looking to achieve with the tool you're making. You'll also see that you can better results when you create the tool yourself, rather than hiring outside help to make it for you.

Make new tools: When you're ready to create a new automation process, you'll want to make a brand new tool every time. It can feel counterproductive, but you're not starting from scratch. You'll have the code from previous tools, and you can base your new tool on that. If you try and reuse older tools, it'll simply make it unusable over time. If you keep creating new tools, you'll build a library of tools that will help you get what you need, no matter what that is.

Work out what's possible with the tools you have: No matter what writing programs you use, you'll see there's all kinds of solutions that you can use to make your job easier. Get to know your tools, and see what's possible with them. That way, it's easier to find the right solution.

As a technical writer, you'll benefit from automation more than you realize. As such, you'll want to start getting into it now. The more you customize and create your automation tools, the easier your job will be overall. Try it now, and see what it can do for you.

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