We are living in a digital world, and I am an INFJ girl

We are living in a digital world, and I am an INFJ girl
Photo by Jonathan Cooper / Unsplash

What does a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® have to do with technical writing in the digital age? Probably not much, however, it does explain my approach to writing about the topic and how I’ve made a living as a technical writer without really thinking about it. For those not familiar with Meyers-Briggs, INFJ is the acronym for the Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging personality type. I am an INFJ, with extra emphasis on the introverted and intuitive parts. I do everything by intuition. And I mean EVERYTHING.

I majored in communications and professional writing as an undergrad and have been working as a professional writer since before I graduated. I have written white papers and blog entries for an open-source software company. I have done technical editing of financial statements for an accounting firm. I spent three years working for the Board of Regents in Athens, Georgia editing and writing technical user documents and test plans for the Banner and Degree Works programs used by every university in the University System of Georgia. I took technical writing courses as part of my bachelor’s degree studies.

It's not rocket science, but it can be

Until this assignment, I never thought about my understanding of “technical writing in the digital age.” It was just something that I did. I’m good at research, following directions, and putting information together in ways that are engaging and accessible to whatever audience I’m writing for. It’s instinct, a second sense. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like getting paid $75-$150 an hour for writing technical white papers? (Answer: It’s me! I would rather set myself on fire, but if you can stand it, it’s not a bad way to make a living, or as freelance work to help pay rent, because having roommates when you’re over 40 is unbearable).

Technical writing is more than instruction manuals and scientific information

In this week’s reading, I had to review and think critically about what technical writing is and how we convey that in digital environments, as Dr. Lucas points out, “we are all likely already technical writers to some degree.” I agree. I currently work as a philanthropy writer at Augusta University. While that may not sound super technical, Augusta University is a research institution and medical college in addition to having an arts, humanities, and social sciences campus. I have to regularly communicate with a variety of audiences. I’ve worked on case statements and proposals to garner support for the Medical College of Georgia, a new softball/baseball complex for Athletics, the new building for the College of Science and Mathematics, and various projects in between. I never thought about it being technical writing but it is.

It can be complex, but keep it simple

John Balzotti defines technical writing as “the delivery of practical, scientific, or mechanical information in a way that is clear, accurate, and easily accessible for a specific group of people.” Balzotti identifies that group as “users,” or people who are looking for specific information. In other words, as with all writing, technical or not, the first rule is to know the audience. Technical writing becomes far less intimidating when thinking in those terms. In my mind, if I can simplify the definition of technical writing into something easy for me to understand, then I can take that same approach with far more complex information for the user audience. It makes it seem far less daunting.

Textual elements, visual components, and multimedia?!

Where I think I will struggle most in this class, will be in the digital part even though I also use digital media in my daily work. I have very little design experience and working in the environments I have, it wasn’t necessary. Other people get paid to do that and are far better at it than I am. Even now when I write a case statement or a proposal, I collect the photos I want to use, put in a request with communications and marketing and magic happens. If I write a donor story, we have a shared WordPress site and it’s no more complicated than copying and pasting from a Word doc and choosing a feature image that WordPress knows how to format and place within a fixed template.

I am most looking forward to the challenge of refining my online persona and jumping in head first to learn new skills. I have a domain and WordPress site that has been a work in progress for far longer than I care to admit.

Lessons learned

So, what did I learn this week? I learned that while I have good instincts as a writer and have made a career in technical writing, there are always new things to learn and old things to revisit. Digital media evolves constantly and as a writer who still prefers pen and paper to my laptop, I still have to embrace the new to remain competitive in my field. In reviewing this week's material, I feel like I've been making the digital part of technical writing (or any writing) more difficult than it probably is and I'm hoping to overcome my fears and insecurities around it.

Valerie Emerick

Valerie Emerick

Valerie currently works in Philanthropy & Alumni Engagement at Augusta University as a philanthropy writer. Her fifteen-year career includes technical, grant, news, and feature writing.
Augusta, Georgia