They rehash the technical jargon related to a product or service and make it digestible for a potential user. Syed Amir Ali Hashmi looks at a technical writer’s careereducation Updated: May 23, 2012 11:34 IST
In today’s volatile business world, organisations are becoming extremely conscious of the messages they send out to customers. Smart and effective communication has become necessary for any product and service offered to today’s customer by profit-conscious organisations. And this has contributed to the prominence of the profession of technical writing.
A technical writer transforms technical information into a simple and lucid message so that the users the information can comprehend it and eventually use the product or service it refers to. The profession has evolved fast in recent years. Earlier, a technical writer was a shared resource across multiple teams or departments and was given tasks like last-minute spelling checks. However, today, he or she is an integral part of every communication-intensive activity within an organisation. The work involves product documentation (like putting together end-user guides and online help files, administrator guides, data sheets, release notes, etc). The writer has to author, publish and manage all project-specific deliverables (like analyses documents, design documents, QA plans and cases, training documents, etc).
A technical writer can also be engaged in another critical area like sales and marketing where he/she has to author, design and publish business proposals, case studies, white papers, and other client-facing collaterals. He or she can also work in the area of instructional design and e-learning or Quality Control (like CMMi and ISO documentation).
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Technical documentation, creating/designing catalogues and brochures giving technical information about a sector — software or hardware, finance, biotechnology aviation, etc -
is called technical writing. It involves activities including information requirement analysis, information design, information development, information quality assurance, information publication, information archival and retrieval and post-publication resolution of information issues. Technical writing as an activity communicates information that is clear, concise, creative, correct, compliant, consistent and ultimately helpful to the audience
n 9 am: Reach office
n 10 am: Check all the documentation issues recorded in an issue tracker. Prioritise the issues.
n 10:30 am: Discussions with programmers or quality team, depending on the relevance of the issue.
n 11:30 pm: Prepare the draft information on the authoring tool
n 1:30: Lunch
n 2:30 pm: Get content reviewed and published
n 3:30 pm: Team meetings, training sessions
n 6 pm: Leave for home
Remuneration varies across industry and is quite competitive with other professions.
Less than one year: Rs 10,000-Rs 18,000 a month
With 5-9 years of experience: Rs 30,000-Rs 45,000 a month
With more experience: Sky is the limit
n Strong verbal and written communication skills, a penchant for writing, an eye for detail
n Basic to expert level language editing skills
n Basic to expert level formatting and designing skills
n Basic to expert level skills on authoring and design software (Lotus Symphony, MS Office, Adobe Technical Communication Suite, etc). Content Management tools (FileNet, Author IT, Documentum, etc.)
n Basic to expert level programming language skills like C, C++, Java will also help. Certain job roles will require knowledge of specific applications and tools like Databases, ERP, CAD, etc in the IT industry
n Basic to expert level knowledge of the industry domain
n Ability to work in a team, stick to deadlines, take ownership
HOW DO I GET THERE?
You need a good educational background. Unlike other professions, you do not require any specific qualification, degree or certificate – you can be a graduate in humanities, or engineering. Some organisations prefer a mass communication or literature background. What also counts is your ability to communicate information about technology to your audience, your command over the language, and your understanding of the delivery medium. New tools and standards have come out in the market. Today, candidates with knowledge of content management tools, specific programming languages and applications are more likely to land jobs as a technical writers
INSTITUTES & URLs
You can do a course in technical writing from a private institute. Graduate, postgraduate and
PhD programmes can be done in the US, Canada, Australia. Technical communication as a PhD subject can go together with computer science, and
n Technowrites Academy, Pune, www.technowrites.com
n University of Calicut, Kozhikode ( Kerala ), www.universityofcalicut.info
n Documentation Research and Training Center (D.R.T.C.), Bangalore, drtc.isibang.ac.in/DRTC
PROS & CONS
n You get to learn more about the product you are writing about
n Your words can reach the entire world as many will read about it
n One can diversify into advertising and journalism
n You can learn new things about different products
n Highly competitive
n Late working hours during documentation release
Your work is read by millions
You can help win a million dollar deal for your organisation too
What’s the best part of your job?
The best thing is the opportunity to learn something new. Imagine the excitement of writing for a database product that will be used worldwide. Imagine writing a user guide that is translated into a number of languages and read by millions of people. Imagine the challenge of scripting a business value proposition for a multimillion dollar winning deal for your organisation. The list can go on.
What’s the demand like?
The demand for technical writers will grow as it is linked to the growth of a particular sector. In five years, new products will be released, new services will be launched, and new compliance standards will be adopted. Writers can expect growth in terms of job demand, new roles, new standards, new tools and technologies, trends.
Advice to aspiring writers?
Set your basics right. Do not enter this profession just because you want a job or earn an attractive remuneration. You should be passionate about unravelling the technology and writing about it.
Opportunities available for entry-level candidates?
One can begin as a junior, trainee or associate technical Writer and grow to manager level. In large organisations, there are positions like director or vice president, technical communication.
Designations will vary across organisations. But growth is certain. You can expect to grow and become a team lead or manager if you’re interested in people management.