What's your technical writing personality type?

Examine any large team of technical writers and you'll likely find a wide array of personalities. Few will fall into the "Tina the Tech Writer" stereotype. Also, each personality will bring different strengths and weaknesses to the team.

Personality can also have a strong influence on your ability to perform technical writing tasks. For example, a highly social writer will have a much easier time interviewing SMEs and contributing during meetings. A less social writer may have an easier time surviving as the sole writer on a project or staying focused and productive for long periods of time.

Because personality has a strong influence on technical writing skills, it may help to take a look at how psychologists categorize personality types.

How personality type is measured

One of the more popular personality tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I first took this test while working on my undergraduate degree, as part of the career guidance process.

The MBTI breaks personality into four aspects. Each aspect is a range, and a person will usually lean toward one end or the other. These aspects are detailed below.

Extroversion (E) / Introversion (I): Extroverts draw energy from frequent social interaction, and focus on people and the world around them. Introverts draw energy from thought and reflection, and have an inward focus.

Sensing (S) / Intuition (N): Sensing depends on information drawn from immediate surroundings. Details and facts are essential. Intuition depends on abstract information, connections between ideas, and possibilities and patterns.

Thinking (T) / Feeling (F): Thinkers rely heavily on logic when making decisions, and strive for objectivity. Feelers rely on empathy and emotions when making decisions, and strive for harmony.

Judgment (J) / Perception (P): Judging types rely on their knowledge of right and wrong, and prefer to nail down decisions as soon as possible. Perceiving types constantly question the status quo, and prefer to keep options open.

Personality type is determined by combining an individual's scores on these four categories. For example, you can be an ENTP (extroversion, intuition, thinking, and perception) or an ISFJ (introversion, sensing, feeling, and judging), or any combination of the four aspects. If you're curious what your type is, you can take the test for free online.

How personality type impacts your technical writing skills

Your MBTI type and the descriptions for each trait can be used to analyze your strengths and weaknesses as a technical writer. For example, here are a few common type combinations, and some generalizations we can make about writers who fall into each type.

ESFJ - ESFJs are great at building relationships with SMEs, working with other departments to nail down decisions, and tracking project details. They make great editors, and are experts at writing content that covers all the details. ESFJs need to be careful to consider all sides of a problem before deciding on a solution.

ENTP - ENTPs excel at sharing their ideas with others and gaining the consensus and cooperation required to make those ideas a reality. They add excitement and vision during meetings. As writers, they easily convey complicated procedures in a clear manner. ENTPs need to watch out for practical details that weren't considered, and be careful to ground their ideas with feedback from others.

INTP - INTPs are skilled at troubleshooting and solving theoretical problems, inventing new solutions, and explaining complex concepts in a simple way. They are big-picture writers who excel at brainstorming and outlining, but often struggle with detailed editing, proof reading, and repetitive tasks.

INTJ - INTJs thrive at producing highly accurate documentation. They can quickly and methodically analyze the details of a problem or task, and turn that data into well-targeted user guides that include important facts other writers may have missed. Grokking complex subject matter comes naturally to the INTJ; they are usually fluent in the jargon spoken by subject matter experts, and can stay one step ahead in technical discussions that would leave other writers scratching their heads and saying "can you repeat that?" INTJs can best round out their analytical personalities by focusing on the "soft skills" necessary for building relationships with coworkers.

These are just a few of the combinations possible, and if you look at any large technical writing team, you'll likely be surprised at the diversity of personalities. This diversity of personality types helps the team function; each member brings skills and strengths that contribute the team's ability to get the job done.