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How Introverted Technical Writers Can Survive and Thrive

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The Daily “Swirl”

So you’re juggling deadlines, meeting with stakeholders and subject matter experts, trying to keep it all straight. You feel that you don’t have a moment to breathe, nor to process information that’s coming at you from multiple angles. If only you could have a quiet corner to think, process, and produce. Does any of this feel familiar? You might be an introvert in an extrovert’s world. Rest assured you’re not alone and there are strategies to survive and even thrive in the technical communications industry.

We chiefly live in an extroverted world in the high tech industry and elsewhere. Time and again, we hear about concepts like “working out loud,” “teamwork innovation,” and “organization disruption.” I feel these are useful strategies and am not disputing the value of team work and group communication. However, in an environment that showcases the above strategies, it may be time to inject some more quietness and internal reflection into the equation.

Introvert and Extrovert Energy

Introverts are not anti-social and extroverts are not social butterflies. The key distinction is where each gets their energy: for introverts, typically from quiet time to reflect and recharge; for extroverts, typically from social time to express and recharge. You do not fall into one of personality type or the other; rather on a continuum. Everyone will showcase an affinity towards one of these or perhaps something in the middle.

Existing in An Extrovert’s World

As Susan Cain identifies, one third to a half of the world’s population identify as introverts. Also, in her Power of Introverts Ted Talk, she identifies the need for more of a yin-yang balance of this personality spectrum. The key is to find environments that you thrive in and set yourself up for success – even better, an environment that allows for varieties of success (some individual, some shared) to go along with varieties of personalities.

Introverts as Tech Writers and How to Fit In

As someone who identifies as an introvert, I’m fortunate to be in a work environment where I have a place. I see time and again that this energy type can actually work nicely in a fast-paced, seemingly outward environment such as the high tech industry. Here are some aspects of the personality that I feel are compatible with the role of a technical writer:

  • Connect on an Individual Level
    Whether in interviews with a single or small group of subject matter experts or while chatting by the (physical or virtual) water cooler, introverts enjoy connecting with people, so long as it’s a manageable crowd. It is in this sense that they can make great interviewers, a must-have skill for technical writers. During these interactions, great ideas can come forth unexpectedly. For example, a subject matter expert may convey a problem that users frequently face, and a creative solution to the problem rises. After all, we as technical writers want to connect to our audience and understand their needs.
  • Take Time to Absorb Information
    When ideas arise, it’s time to absorb and reflect. Introverts retreat to the proverbial “quiet corner” to take in the ideas, explore them, as well as recharge their own batteries. This combination is a powerful one; in recharging energy, introverts can give an idea true shape. For example, after you interviewed a subject matter expert about the problem that users face and felt empathy for them, in quiet time when you’re most activated, you’ll make sure your update or solution (and ultimately your user base) gets proper attention. Another colleague of mine recommended to “book time with yourself” in your calendar. That way, the time is officially carved out for both you and people who may otherwise schedule a meeting in that free slot.Worried about doing this in a busy office environment? Try to find a space where you can close the door for awhile. Alternatively, try some white noise or instrumental music through a set of headphones while you explore your solution.
  • Commit to a Focused, Long Term Project
    A project such as a documentation restructure is nicely suited to an introvert energy, because it allows people to run with a single idea and explore its possibilities. Maybe the project has regular followups with a small group working on the project, where ideas can be shared but then explored further in the quiet corner. This type of project combines strategies of connecting and absorbing.
    Even better, a transformation project has multiple phases and ties in with a shared goal—to connect better with the audience we’re writing for.

NOTE: The values inherent in these points are not solely held by introverts. No matter what personality type, technical writers generally share these goals and values but may come at them from different angles depending on how they work and think. And that’s a good thing.

Final Thoughts: Finding the “Goldilocks” Balance

The key, no matter what personality type you identify with, is to find a balance in the work environment. There’s no one personality type, nor should any one be dominant over the other. A team of different personality types can be a wonderful thing, so long as the diversity of perspectives can have time and space to breathe. As Susan Cain puts it in her Ted Talk, we need armies of different people to solve problems.

If you identify as an introvert, I hope you identified with some points in this post and think about how you can succeed in an environment that may not always feel like a natural fit.

If you identify as an extrovert, I hope you gained perspective on where introvert energy lies and ideas for how to better collaborate.

As team members, I hope you embrace the diverse personality types that make up your team and recognize the strength that results when they all have a voice.


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