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Old 12.09.2005, 08:21   #1
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Lightbulb Learn the Language of the Techies

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Technical writing is all about helping end-users easily understand the complexities and applications of a product, says RUKMA VASUDEV

HERE'S A career option for those interested in technology and language... !!

Did you ever look for help when you bought your new washing machine or a new cellphone? Do you consult online help when you are working on your computer, say MS Windows?

What do you remember came in handy for you, when you were frantically seeking help? Well, isn't it the user guide or operator manual or the on-line help files? Well, they are all written by professionals called technical writers.

Technical writing involves communication of technical information in concise, clear and easy-to-read manner to the end-user, who may include laymen, engineers, scientists, line workers, production managers, or floor managers in an organisation.

"Technical writers enable people to use technology in an easy way, by documenting complex technology in simple language," says Balaji Natarajan, Manager, Development, Yantra Solutions, Bangalore.

80s phenomenon

Technical writing was prevalent even during the 18th Century Industrial Revolution. But as a career per se, it emerged during the 1980s when technology began to grow more sophisticated. The need arose for people who could understand technology and convey the information in a non-technical way.

"Communicating technical information involves technical writing," avers Makarand Pandit, President of the Society for Technical Communication, India Chapter and the CEO of Technowriters, a technical writing service provider.

"The technicality depends on the subject. It need not always be engineering or IT. It could be medicine, agriculture or anything else," he clarifies.

This field requires creativity, aptitude for technology, planning and the ability to explain complex technical concepts to different audiences.

Technical writing encompasses areas such as electronics, aviation, aircraft, software and hardware development, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, finance, and health care.

Wide ambit

"Preparing materials for e-learning also falls within the ambit of technical writing," says Vijay S., a technical writer working for a reputed MNC in Bangalore. Jobs can be found in every field which involves technology and calls for its simplification in terms of conveying it to a target audience.

"It is a profession where people from different areas of learning can take up the job and become productive to an organisation quickly," observes Mr. Balaji. "As long as the industry comes out with products, there will be a need for documentation and thereby the demand for technical writers is perpetual," observes Mr. Makarand.

Quoting statistics, he says the number of writers (currently about 1500 in India) will grow to 5000 by the year 2010, thereby contributing to Rs. 400 crore in India's exports. He will not be surprised to see tech writing industry doing an export business of Rs. 1000 crore by another decade.

The job

Technical writers essentially study data and conduct in-depth interviews and attend review meetings to understand the product; prepare bulletins and user manuals; produce/arrange for illustrations, charts, maps and graphs; and edit, standardise, review and revise materials prepared by other technical writers.

"Technical writers tend to work in collaboration with application developers and support them by preparing high-level and low-level design documents and bringing out user manuals and installation guides," says Hemachitra K., an Instructural Systems Designer with Intel.

"Technical writing is an interesting profession as you grow with the company's products," quips Shailaja Kumar, senior technical writer with Yantra Soultions.

Technical writers tend to be knowledge repositories of the company's products as they are involved right from the design of the products up to the final stage. They hold an important position in the company they work for.

"It is a fascinating career as long as you are interested in technology," says Lakshmi R., technical writer working for an MNC.

"There is a lot of demand for technical writers. The pay package too is attractive," avers Siddharth Mohanty, Instructural Designer, IBM. "Freshers should pick up whatever job they get... with one year's experience or so, after gaining certain domain expertise, they can switch jobs," he feels.

Born or made?

"Technical writers can be made, if they do extensive reading on fiction, non-fiction and self-help books, and develop an interest in the `writing styles' employed in all these books, which cater to a wide array of audience," explains Mr. Balaji. "They should develop good writing skills though such reading."

"In terms of description and language, technical writing is fact and to-the-point, while creative writing can be fiction and flexible," says Aroona Rai, senior tech writer with Yantra Solutions.

Technical writing restricts the usage of flowery language. It should be written in a plain, crisp, succinct and correct language. Creative writing skills cannot be explored or attempted here. Technical writers cater to overseas audience as well. Acute attention has to be given to language.

Requirements

Persons interested in technical writing should have good communication skills (verbal and non-verbal), have a penchant for technology, grasp concepts quickly, listen actively, and the knack to gather necessary information and classify it accordingly.

Companies recruiting technical writers generally look for candidates who possess a degree in journalism, mass communication, English literature or computer science. Some ask for programming skills as well. Quite a few insist on knowledge in handling technical writing tools such as Photoshop and Quark Express. Some companies provide in-house training and some have freelance technical writers whose services are hired as and when required.

"Every degree has a place in this career as long as one has good communication skills and a passion for technology," feels Prasad P., Content Developer with IBM.

Candidates are screened by companies based on a test. The test, sometimes online, involves questions to figure out the candidate's comprehension ability, computer knowledge, proficiency in English, writing and listening skills.

"To scout for the right talent, companies usually keep their requirements posted on job websites, newspaper advertisements and job fairs", says Vijay S.

Technical writers may don various titles depending on the organisation they work for. Technical writers are essentially information communicators/developers.

They can be known as technical communicators, documentation specialists, usability specialists, documentation manager, instructural designer, content developer/reviewer, technical editor, web designer, graphic illustrator, technical instructor and technical publications developer.

Career graph

"Technical writing is a specialised field and there is a special career ladder for deserving employees," says Mr. Balaji. A technical writer can move on to become a senior technical writer, principal technical writer, documentation manager or team leader.

A documentation manager handles bigger projects and teams at the management level. "The promotions, pay and the titles are company-specific, as it is with most of the professions," feels Ms. Aroona.

"It all depends on the prevailing opportunities and the candidate's potential," says Mr. Makarand. "Pay scales are comparable with that of the software engineers," says Mr. Balaji.

"With the computers penetrating rural areas, more and more people tend to get exposed to software. The intuitive needs of the users need documentation... hence technical writing as a career is poised to grow," opines Vijay S.

"As India becomes a source for engineering production centre, the engineering teams, along with the documentation team, may have to travel overseas to study the customer base," feels Mr. Balaji.

Platform

A technical writer can become a member of the Society of Technical Communication (STC). The conference and meetings conducted by STC serve as a platform to debate upon issues concerning technical information.

For details, you can log on to www. www.stc-india.org.

So, if you feel you fit the bill for a tech writer's job, why not go ahead and apply? You may land a plum job and make life easier for all your customers.
http://www.hindu.com/edu/2005/09/12/...1200440100.htm
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