In most cases, as an individual contributor, no one expects you to know the inner workings of a tool. At best, if you have not used a tool before, the concern should be how soon you can pick it up and start delivering at the work front. It is important to understand that all help authoring tools make the job of the technical writer or information developer easier. And it is equally important to know that one can very quickly learn how to use such software – it is not rocket science. At managerial levels though, you may be required to make decisions around buying new authoring software to scale up to industry demands or to manage your entire documentation collaterals in a better fashion. In such cases, knowledge of different help authoring tools, their respective plus and minus points, and their ability to scale up to future demands may force you to make sense of whether a given tool is a good investment. In any case, you will not be alone in trying to find a solution to the problem – there’s always Google!
To me, the important question is not whether a person is master of a help authoring tool. Instead, the more important question is how well the person can write. Good writing is the main skill interviewers should be after. All help authoring tools are rendered useless in the hands of a technical writer or an information developer who does not have the basics of his or her main skill intact. Authoring software is merely a means to an end – and the end is good writing skills – not good knowledge of a tool. Today one tool is popular, tomorrow another will be. But if your writing is good today, it must only get better with experience.
Let’s get back to the question I posed at the start – Do you need to master help authoring tools to be a good technical writer? The answer as you may have guessed is – No.
The author is co-founder and Director, Content Development at Steta