Technical Writing – a rewarding career
This article provides an insight on how technical writing has gained popularity as a lucrative career over the years. It will also touch upon into various nuances of Technical Writing characteristics, styles to follow and differences between Technical and Creative writing.
1. What is technical writing?
Technical writing is the art of explaining information, procedures more lucidly and effectively.
Technical Writing Attributes:
- Decoding sophistication. Flowery language and the habit of using excessive verbiage need to be done away with.
- Putting instructions in plain and understandable English is priority
- Keeping grammatical mistakes at bay is essential
- Understanding the audience you are writing for is of foremost importance. Your document should target the right audience and should read clarity of thought.
- Formatting is the key Indexes, headings, table of contents, and table of figures should be easily accessible.
- Making sure all the relevant information is part of the document.
- Being consistent in using styles. There are many style guides which explain in minute details how to write a technical document.
- Write for your Audience
- Give them the best – simple and easy to use
- Present graphically stimulating content
Types of Technical Manuals
There are different types of technical manuals. Depending on the content, certain types of technical manuals are chosen. Following are a few of the types of technical manuals:
- User guides
- Service manuals
- Technical document
- Frequently asked questions
- Business writing
- Content writing
- API documentation
Each type of writing concentrates on certain needs of the user. Each kind of writing also takes the knowledge of the user into consideration. For example an online help manual for a beginner will have to explain at large about every aspect of the product. Usage of acronyms should be supported with clear explanations.
For a middle level user, the writer can skip explanations where ever necessary as the expectation is that this user’s understanding of the product is fairly good. For a high level, user, manuals are written with greater emphasis on technicalities. For such a user, the writer does not have to talk about the usage of the product. Manuals for them are a reference which they can look up when they need to re visit the product.
2. Roles and Responsibilities
A Technical writer’s responsibility is to follow the Document Development Life Cycle (DDLC). A writer must make sure that he is involved in all the stages of DDLC. Following are the stages in DDLC and a technical writer’s responsibilities during each of these stages:
1) Gathering Requirement: a writer gathers the required information from the production team. In order to get the right information he has to identify the subject matter experts. He is required to be part of most of their meetings to take notes. While gathering requirement writer must make note of
a) Purpose – What is the aim of the document? What kind of information should be in the document?
b) Targeting audience – Whom is the document targeted at? Who is the end reader of the document? What is the knowledge level of the reader?
c) Using the document – What are the conditions under which the document is used? Is it used to again an insight of the product? Is it used as a FAQ document?
2) Analyzing Requirement: Analysis of requirement involves estimating time, effort and economy. A writer should be able to rough draft the number of chapters, pages, and format it accordingly. With this analysis he should be able to estimate the amount of time required to draft the document along with the cost estimate.
3) Designing the Document: Document designing is nothing but the skeleton of how a document will look.
a) A writer designs the structure of the document which consists of the main heading, heading, sub heading, important parts, bullets, and the rest.
b) Presentation is an important aspect of the document. It involves formatting as well. During formatting various styles are created and saved for an initial review. It also includes headers, footers, page numbers, page breaks, and certain other aspects.
c) A writer decides on the flow of the document in consultation with the project/program manager.
4) Developing the Document: During development of the document, a plan is created which is as good as a checklist for the writer to follow. The checklist guarantees that all the required information goes into the making of the document. Having r all the prerequisites in place, he starts developing the content for the document.
5) Reviewing the Document: Technical Writers are also required to proof read their own document to make sure there are no obvious errors and that the document is grammatically correct. The document is then reviewed by the technical team and the subject matter experts. Constructive feedback is incorporated as changes into the document. This cycle of document review continues till the technical experts and subject matter experts are satisfied with the document in totality.
6) Delivering the Document: Post formatting and testing its usability the document is released live for the end users review.
7) Maintaining the Document: As and when changes are made to the product or updates are performed, a Technical writer is expected to update the technical document as well. End users should always be given the latest information.
The role of a Technical Writer has gained high importance over the past few years, because of the deft writing skills and skill full present automation/technicality skills with which the content is presented. The importance of a Technical Writer is only expected to grow as the need for talented Technical Writers will see a sharp rise in the forthcoming years.
3. Who can become a Technical Writer? Job Prospects at Various Levels for Anyone!
Are you passionate about writing? Is your written skill in English flawless? Do you have the flair to simplify things? Can you write instructions in plain and crisp English? If your answer is “YES” to any or all, of these questions you can indeed become a Technical Writer.
You do not need any specialization or extensive experience with any technology to become a Technical Writer. When you are asked to write about a product, the primary job is to ask as many questions as possible to understand the product. One should never fear about the kind of questions being. It is always a good practice better to ask different question related to the product, rather than embarrass yourself with a sub standard document with bare minimum information.
It’s a myth that only students/professionals of English literature are good at Technical Writing. Remember Technical Writing is not like creative writing where you are expected to have a flair for writing. You are not expected to keep your audience hooked to a book with interest till the last page. You are required to provide a document which works as a reference whenever they have questions about the product/issue.
Entry into this field is still rather easy for freshers because competition is not neck deep. The reason being, the concept of a Technical Writing is rather new in India and has not been explorer fully. It is stated that the need for Technical Writers will grow so rapidly that there will be a steep rise of 10%from 2006 to 2016.
4. Flexibility of Work:
If you have experience in any of the technical fields like automation, information technology, engineering, production or manufacturing it’s a plus. Experience in these fields will train your mind to think in a way that is procedural, which will only add to your skill as a Technical Writer. Fresh graduates can also break into this industry. Having a dynamic sense of learning will help them gain ground faster.
The feasibility and flexibility of this career is what makes it a wise choice. You can enter this field at any level, be it as a fresher or as an experienced professional. For a fresher you can explore the field of Technical Writing and improve your skills year after year. You should cultivate a learning habit which will eventually benefit in the form of knowledge and information.
Most Technical Writers are allowed to work from home, as this job is more of an individual responsibility. You are required to travel to work or onsite when you have to research on a job, need information or have to attend meetings in person.
As an experienced professional you can swiftly move into the Technical Writing field holding no barriers. Let me make this sound more convincing to you. I have worked in the ITeS industry for close to 8 years in various roles and designations. Although I love my work it did not give me the flexibility of time and demanded more working hours than I was prepared for. It was not a challenge as long as I was free of personal responsibilities. But once I became a mother this did not suit me and I was looking for something which will keep me connected to the industry I had long known and will also help give shape to my long cherished dream of making writing a career
After researching on the net, I realized Technical Writing is what I should be doing. I found out that this job gave you the freedom of choosing any industry you wanted to work in without any restrictions. Especially in the ITeS field a Technical Writer was gaining importance day by day. Also this field does not exempt anyone based on age or gender. You can build a career as a Technical Writer at any stage of your life.
Over the last 10 years we have seen how professionals are expected to be available 24×7 and day and night have become one in terms of work timings. Night time work gained tremendous momentum as most businesses are off shored out ofAmerica. To be in touch with the client, irrespective of the role, one is expected to be available at those odd hours or work during night. Technical writing gives you to opportunity to work day time. Even if you are ever expected to be available at a certain odd hour it’s only for a meeting or a review. Reviews and feedback can be worked upon via email as well. Since it’s not a live job one does not need to work odd hours.
5. Growth Opportunities:
You can move ahead in your field as an information designer, Sr. Technical writer, team lead and project manager. Or you can choose to continue as a technical writer and move towards expertise in any of the stylized writings like DITA etc or become an instructional designer.
Technical Writers have the opportunity of working as free-lancers. One can also work from home. Free lancers are hired on a contract basis in companies. Even though some companies do not consider free-lancing as relevant experience you can provide reference contacts to prove your ingenuity.
6. IT industry and Remuneration
It will be an understatement if I say that IT industry is now hiring Technical Writers. They are in great demand in the IT industry. There are always a reasonable amount of Non IT professionals who look for an opportunity to break into the IT industry. The field of Technical Writing gives everyone an excellent opportunity irrespective of age, gender and professional background. It is simply a matter of having the passion to write and the willingness to learn new things.
Competition in this field is still pre mature. There are very few trained and certified Technical Writers. Even though an interview may attract a large crowd of hopefuls, only a few are short listed. The IT industry is looking for well trained Technical Writers who have live exposure of writing different kind of documents. Compared to other ITeS and Software fields, proven technical writers are a few and there’s a dearth of qualified Technical Writers who are able to draft various kinds of documents.
In the ITeS industry Technical Writers are expected to primarily draft documents for knowledge bases and maintain standard operating procedures known as SOPs. Maintenance is crucial in the IT industry as the system is moving away from being person dependant. If information is on your mind, the natural thing to do is put in the knowledge base for perusal. A Technical writer may be associated with one project for a long time or until he requests for a change in project.
In a software company the Technical writer’s responsibility is more independent as he is required to concentrate on the product/project in hand and develop documents with only one kind of audience in mind. Even though maintenance plays a crucial part, the only time the document is revisited is when there’s an upgrade which is not very frequent. The Technical Writer moves onto the next project as soon as he completes one.
The IT industry, given its sheen for frequent onsite projects, also requires Technical Writers to travel onsite. This is an additional attraction to the want of being a technical writer in an IT industry. Onsite projects/transitions usually long for a period of 4 – 6 months.
If you are breaking into the IT industry as a fresh graduate wanting to become a Technical Writer you can expect a decent remuneration. Having spent 2-3 years and proving yourself as a skilled technical writer promotions are fast paced and consistent. Promotions can be in the form of increased remuneration or elevation of designation or both. Experienced, skilled and senior Technical Writers draw handsome salary packages on par/above software consultants with similar years of experience.
The scope of Technical Writing in today’s market is huge as almost all companies are hiring them. Small companies may have a few Technical Writers or a small team mostly reporting to the project manager who is in charge of the project. In bigger companies Technical Writers report to Managers who were also Technical Writers themselves. Most Technical Writing projects are off shored to Indian companies or branches located out of India. The number of jobs are only set to increase as the position of Technical Writer is gaining popularity and most crucially the importance of the concept.
7. Training and Certification
Keeping the demand for skilled and experienced Technical writers in mind TechTotal offers training, mentoring, exposure to live projects and certification to aspirants. We also help the aspirants with placement recommendations. TechTotal is a one stop complete solution for anyone seeking a career in Technical writing. We give numerous learning opportunities to aspiring technical writers. TechTotal is the right choice for working technical writers who to upgrade/refresh their writing skills or learn new tools.
TechTotal is a documentation services company which, over the years, carved the path to build talented technical writing professionals. Having worked with diverse clientele we understand the requirement of a company’s choosing to hire Technical writer. We realize market needs not just trained Technical Writers, but Technical Writers who can deliver quality outputs – which is a rarity. To fill this vacuum, TechTotal has taken the onus to create world class Technical Writers.
Thus it has designed courses to cater to the diverse needs of the market and individual aspirants. We have 4 customized courses for aspirants at different levels.
- Mastering Technical Writing Tools – this course is for Technical Writers. Duration to master one tool is one week. You can choose the number of tools you want to get trained in or seek our guidance to understand what tools you require. You will also be assisted in placements
- Crash Course in Technical Writing – duration for this course is 15 days and the minimum eligibility criterion is graduation. Successful completion of the course will earn you a certificate. You will also be assisted in placements
- Certificate Course in Technical Writing – duration for this course is 45 days and the minimum eligibility criterion is graduation. This course aims at taking you through all the concepts of Technical Writing. Successful completion of the course will earn you a certificate. You will also be assisted in placements.
- Graphics for Technical Writers – within this 1 month course, you will be taught all the graphic tools used by Technical Writers. You should be a Technical Writer to be eligible for this course
Apart from these TechTotal also offers specialization in XML – DITA.
I can vouch from personal experience that learning and working go hand in hand in TechTotal. Your work gets productive criticism helping you improve writing. TechTotal guarantees exposure and experience in writing all types of documents. During the course of your training TechTotal identifies your strengths and creates an action plan to enhance your skills further.
It is regarded as a valuable partner for documentation services by many companies. Their list of clients proves their potential. Companies also have very high expectations from candidates trained at TechTotal. Make most of what this institute has to offer!
Here’s wishing you all the best in this field and happy writing.