Transitioning from Technical Writer to Business Analyst

With evolving economic and technological needs, career moves are practically universal in today’s job market. Some of these career moves are actually leaps, such as an accountant transitioning to become a nurse, but others are much closer jumps, such a technical writer or documentation specialist moving into the often similar business analyst’s role. Indeed, in smaller organizations (or larger organizations eyeing their bottom line) one person may handle both the business analysis and technical writing roles since the required skills often overlap so smoothly.

Even if you are perfectly content in a current technical writing role, most of us can benefit from at least considering other organizational roles and making ourselves marketable for more than one position. Additionally, in many companies, a business analyst position is in a higher salary range than that of a technical writer, making the transition financially appealing.

If you are a technical writer wondering what you might have in common with a business analyst, consider these commonly shared skills and character traits:

  • Both roles require diligence in tracking down subject matter experts and locating existing research. Like you, a business analyst must likely develop a roster of experts that he routinely turns to in order to accurately document his work.
  • Both roles require strong interviewing and listening skills. A business analyst also has to ferret out details, continually ask “Why?”, and read between the lines to discover what they can’t afford to miss.
  • Both roles strongly benefit from close familiarity with the inner-workings of an organization’s products or services.Like you, a business analyst has to know every possible occurrence of a product or service (and know how to document those occurrences in clear and understandable ways).
  • Both roles require the ability to write clearly and precisely, including the ability to describe products or functions graphically (such as diagrams, tables, charts, etc.). Indeed, your step-by-step help manual probably requires much of the same creative thinking as a business analyst’s use case diagram.
  • Both roles must actively solicit reviews and feedback for their work. Both also require the ability to evaluate and integrate that feedback as appropriate, and to keep detailed records of what changes were made and why.
  • Like you, business analysts are sticklers for details. Methodical thinking through every aspect of a company’s business is also part and parcel of a business analyst’s work. Whether a writer is creating a how-to manual, help copy, or requirements, she has to pay close attention to all of the steps and features of the service or product and their potential interactions with other services or products, including the lesser-known ones.

Despite these similarities, becoming a business analyst may not be the right choice for every technical writer. The role of a business analyst requires effective oral presentation skills and no small amount of diplomacy. If the following are a natural part of your work persona, you will want to do some careful consideration before applying for a business analyst’s position:

1. You enjoy working alone most of the time, spending most of your day reading, writing, and editing. Throughout a project, business analysts continually interact with stakeholders, project managers, developers, and even training and customer care.

2. You do not enjoy oral presentations, or explaining concepts to larger groups. Requirements are normally presented to all stakeholders in meetings, and the analyst must be prepared to explain and defend them.

3. You do not want to host multiple meetings to facilitate a project from scope to conclusion. Depending on the company, meetings to define scope, business reviews, usability reviews, and technical reviews are all part and parcel of an analyst’s work.

4. The thought of working to resolve conflicts between stakeholders sounds disagreeable you. Almost no business analyst enjoys resolving conflicts when stakeholders offer contradictory wish lists for inclusion in a requirements document, but such conflicts are often a regular part of the requirements cycle, so one must at least be amenable to addressing them.

If you’re still wondering whether a business analysis position may be a good fit for you, the answers to these three questions may reveal the answer:

(1) Would I enjoy business analysis work?

If you enjoy technical writing, the chances are pretty good that you have the temperament to enjoy business analysis. But one easy way to find out is to volunteer for a small business analysis project within your project management division. (Most analysis groups are overloaded and would be glad for the help.) Go through the entire process of discovery, writing your requirements documentation, soliciting feedback, and getting final approval. Not only will this reveal whether you have an affinity for business analysis, but if you decide to pursue it as a career, it will give you some experience for your resume. Of course, before you can “try on” the role of the business analyst, you may need a bit of training.

(2) Where will I find the proper training and resources to make such a career transition?

You don’t need a degree in business analysis. (I know business analysts with degrees ranging from accounting to English literature.) And although it will help, you don’t need a college course to get started. You will, however, need to familiarize yourself with industry terminology, the process of requirements discovery, and the standard templates for requirements documentation. One industry-acknowledged resource is BABOK 2.0, available here. Although your organization may use slightly different terminology or processes than those described in BABOK 2.0, the basics will serve you well.

(3) Can I become a business analyst in my current industry?

Industry familiarity helps when you enter any job, but particularly so in the role of business analysis, where details are king. If you can make the move to analyst in the industry you’re already trained in, you’re ahead of the game.

If the answers to these questions whet your appetite for business analysis, naturally your next question is going to be, “As a technical writer, how do I market myself as a candidate for business analysis when experienced business analysts may be competing for the same position?” Three ways: (1) If you’re not already doing so, attend your organization’s requirements reviews. Pay close attention to the style of your organization’s requirements as well as the requirements process. Note what you could bring to the table that might enhance what is in place, and be prepared to highlight that in an interview. For example, “I’ve noticed that the discovery stage is sometimes rushed because of our current production schedule. I bring five years of experience of painstakingly documenting our services, and I don’t need a long discovery process.” An outside business analyst candidate is not likely to offer that. (2) Volunteer for smaller analyst projects to gain experience with discovery and writing requirements. (3) Highlight your transferable skills to the analyst position (listed at the beginning of this article) on your resume and in your interview.

Most of my business analysts colleagues and I began our careers as technical writers. We each benefited from our technical writing stints because they afforded us deep, necessary knowledge of our organization’s services. Also, in our technical writing research, we each read numerous requirements documents to help us understand the services we were documenting. Most writers learn to write by reading, so by the time we became analysts, writing requirements was almost second nature. If you decide the move to business analyst is one that is right for you, take advantage of every opportunity in your current role to prepare yourself for what may lie ahead. As far as job transitions go, you’re likely to find this one a natural.

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15 Responses to “Transitioning from Technical Writer to Business Analyst”

  1. Mohit Alegaonakr Says:

    Hi,

    I must say, i felt so good after reading this article.
    Its really a motivating one…

    Let me thank and appreciate the efforts taken care while placing all these word together.

    Keep posting..

    Good Stuff…

    Best Regards,
    Mohit

    Reply

  2. RuthM Says:

    Thanks for the timely article on making the transition from technical writer to business analyst. This is a move I am strongly considering so it was beneficial to learn about the similarities and differences between the two fields as well as the things to consider before making a switch!

    Reply

  3. Natraj Says:

    Thank you very much for this highly informative article.I am a Technical Writer with about three years of Tech Writing experience and about 4 years of Sales and Marketing experience.I too am very keen on pursuing a career as a Business Analyst and did not know as to how I should go about it.This article was very enlightening,and I am very positive about the outcome.

    Reply

  4. Martini Says:

    I have 13 years experience as a techinical writer and I have just been THROWN into the BA role. I’m looking for help! Any suggestions?

    Reply

  5. Helen Says:

    I just made this transition successfully. If you have any questions, post them and I’ll attempt to address them.

    Reply

    • Natraj Says:

      Hi Helen,
      Thank you for providing such valuable input regarding a transition from a Tech.Writer to a BA. I finally got an opportunity as a Systems Analyst. As you may be well aware, the nature of work in different companies is different although the position name be the same. e.g I am currently employed as a Systems Analyst in this firm BUT,I am not involved in the coding/programming aspects which is taken care of by the Development dept.The same position may be called as a BA in some other company. Now, my work involves gathering requirements, preparing flow chart diagrams, interacting with the development team to see that the information I have conveyed is being properly implemented, doing GAP analysis..in short, doing all the things that a BA does,however, as I said, my designation is that of a Systems Analyst. Now, my question is,as a System Analyst, what would be the career path down the line? Although I do have a professional degree in IT, I don’t want to get into programming at all. Is there a possibility that I may HAVE to do programming/coding in future if the need arises?
      Appreciate a quick response and thanks once again.

      Regards,
      Natraj

      Reply

      • Vijay S Shukla Says:

        A Technical Writer who has command over language can succesfully transform into a Business Analyst if he has appreciation of the technology environment and is conversant witn busines process mappling tools. Technical Communication (both written and verbal) is one of the key requirements of a business analyst role.

        Reply

    • Anantha kumar.V.J Says:

      I am a technical writer with over 4+yrs exp…
      I am very good at understanding like as a system analyst.
      I need assistance to make my career to develop as a B A…

      For communication please contact to my mail ID – ananthakumar_vj@yahoo.co.in

      Reply

  6. Bala Says:

    I have 7.0 years exp in IT feild with 4.0 years exp in BFSI Domain desg’ted as TL, now i am looking for BA jobs,
    is it mandatory to complete MBA ( regular) to take up BA jobs.

    Reply

  7. Manoj Says:

    Hi,
    Is a transition from Implementation Lead to Business Analyst possible?
    I was working as Test Analyst earlier then I moved to Implementation recently.
    Will the job profile suits for Business Analyst position?
    Is there any certification requires in documentation?
    Is there any specific courses for Business Analyst in India?

    Reply

  8. rohan Says:

    Hi all,

    I have a technical writing exp of about 2 yrs now. I am looking to change my profile as a buisness analyst. What would you suggest, how should I go about it? Is there any short term certification course which can help me get a job in the profile?
    Anticipating your response.

    Thanks and regards,
    Rohan

    Reply

  9. BoldeRajendra Says:

    Hi ,
    Thank you for providing such valuable information.

    I have one Q?
    Can Software Test Engineer will handle this TBA role.
    If he want to handle what all he need to do and know. and how he should work.

    Regards
    Rajendra

    Reply

  10. the Meta BA Says:

    Technical Writers in my opinion make great business analysts. Communication skills are integral to great business analysis and technical writers are masters of written communication. I would recommend all BA’s take some notes from technical writers.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Business Analyst Basics | Ideas in the Making - September 14, 2010

    […] Part of our role as technical communicators overlaps with the role of the business analyst. I know this first hand; I have been asked if I’m a business analyst at work. Inserting myself between development and the customer is just one of my skills. Business analysts establish requirements, improve processes, and add business value by lending their expertise.  The International Institute of Business Analysis is an independent non-profit professional association for business analysts. There’s always the Wikipedia page for Business Analyst that serves as a simple introduction.  Then there are sites that portray the business analyst as an essential interface between the customer and the development team. For those of us technical writers who have advocated for the customer, this work sounds familiar. For more see the articles on businessanalyst.com. While many people come into our profession from other walks of life, it’s also true that technical writers go on to become successful developers, managers, and business analysts. There’s a good article on the transition from Technical Writer to Business Analyst. […]

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