By Pradip Kumar Nath & Hemprabha Chauhan: Technical writing, a form of technical communication, is a style of formal writing and is used in fields as diverse as computer hardware and software, aerospace industry, robotics, finance, consumer electronics and biotechnology. Technological Writers explain complex ideas to the technical and nontechnical audiences.
Technical Writers often write for readers who know less than they do about their subject, and they try to inform the readers about it rather than show how much they know.
In some organizations Technical Writers may be called Information Developers, Documentation Specialists, Documentation Engineers or Technical Content Developers.
Technical Writers are more successful when they try to impress their readers with how clearly and simply they can present information the readers need. A good Technical Writer needs strong language skills and must understand the highly evolved conventions of modern technical communications.
Quality of a good Technical Writer:
Good Technical Writers in high-tech firms ask two questions about their readers:
i. How much do they know about my subject?
ii. How interested will they be in reading what I have written?
Readers will know a little about the subject, a lot, or something in between. Readers may be uninterested, very interested or somewhere in between, but to keep the readers interest, the technical writer must feel the readers’ response ‘and control the tone and content of the subject.
Prospects of Technical Writers:
Thousands of business and trade magazines and papers are published by industries and publishing firms to keep readers informed about special fields. Industrial publications are often written and edited by Technical Writers. Newspapers, news magazines and wire services employ Technical Writers. Professional journals covering automobile industries, engineer-ing, computers, medicine, law, chemistry, biotechnology, etc. use Technical Writers to report professional trends and to work as editors.
Many Technical Writers work as freelance writers. They are paid by the job or by the hour. Sometimes they are hired to do specific jobs such as writing about a new high-tech product or advancement. Some Technical Writers start out as Research Assistants or as trainees in a Technical Information Department and then are promoted as Technical Writers.
A Technical Writer has no true career levels, but can move up into management of other writers. He could grow into a Senior Technical Writer position, handling complex projects or a small team of writers and editors. His next rise could be a Documentation Manager handling multiple projects and teams.
Technical Writers in high-tech firms are encouraged to state their subject, audience and purpose at the beginning of a document unless the purpose is to persuade the readers to understand the product.
Technical Writers in high-tech firms must be able to write as quickly as possible, and must be able to switch from one writing task to another. Requirements for documents sometimes arise suddenly, and often there is little time between the first notice of a requirement and the deadline for the document.
Technical Writers may also have additional planning duties, including contributing to the documents’ design, writing or reviewing the document outline for content coverage, logical organization, and providing guidelines for the writers and editors. Writing and editing guidelines help ensure consistency in formats, acronyms and abbreviations, and technical details, to cut editing time.
In high-tech firms Technical Writers have two type of audiences i.e. a Primary and a Secondary.
A document written for readers outside the firm will be reviewed by the writer’s supervisor and other company staff before it is revised, put into production, and released to the outside audience. These reviewers are a Secondary audience. The outside readers (the related customers) are the Primary audience.
When Technical Writers have two audiences, they must satisfy their Secondary audience with the document while they try to make it communicate effectively with the Primary audience. Usually, the Secondary audience is familiar with the Primary and can provide effective review.
Technical Writers often recommend usage guidelines or strict observance of the company style manual to his Senior who decides which standard to follow in the document. The longer a document the more important it is for the Technical Writer to coordinate activities with publication staff, letting them know how much work is coming, when it will be submitted, and when it is needed. Accordingly he has to plan and schedule his work.
Technical Writers are expected to be strong in all steps of the writing process. They are expected to emphasis the product and not the processes. The final document (write-up) is much more important in high-tech firms then other professional settings.
Personal Skills of a Technical Writer:
A Technical Writer must possess very good skills in writing good English. He must have good research and communication skill to gather information about the product using many media like- Internet, books, and sometimes to interview the experts in the field, design skills and multimedia presentation.
A Technical Writer should be familiar with the specified subject area apart from technically skilled or trained.
Challenges before the Technical Writers:
In companies that do not produce written or on-line documents for sale, Technical Writers often have to justify their positions by demonstrating that their work has increased the marketability of the firm’s goods or services. Technical Writers are the image builders of the company and are an essential aid to augment its profits. They must keep themselves up-dated with new technical developments in their fields. He must up-date his skills daily by collaborating with educated, intelligent people who value their services. As technology develops, the material technical writers work with changes constantly. The variety makes their work more interesting and challenging and the new materials educate them.
Eligibility for Technical Writers:
There is no requirement of a formal education in the field of Technical Writers. Any Degree with a Post Graduation degree or diploma preferably in Journalism and Mass Communication, knowledge of good English language and IT skills are desirable for a Technical Writer. Computer literacy and knowledge of software application, Microsoft word, page maker, frame maker, rob help and front page, etc. are some of the important skills a Technical Writer must possess.
Jobs Description of a Technical Writer are:
l To Prepare catalogues, user manuals and guides, technical help books, engineering reports and online help documents.
l To Communicate with actual developers of products.
l To Work closely with engineers, scientists, pharmaceutical firms and accountants.
Jobs available for a Technical Writer:
At various firms such as advertising agencies, software developing companies, and in newspapers and magazines, Technical Writers are in demand. The highest demand for Technical Writers is generated by the IT industries. Freelancers can also take up work on contract basis from the companies.
Companies like Infosys Technologies Ltd, Sun Microsystems, Infotech, often appoint Technical Writers for their companies.
Institutes/Universities offering Courses for Technical
Though the Technical Writing field in India is growing faster than ever before, no institute/University in the country impart any kind of Technical Writing course or training purely. Some university courses include a paper in Technical Writing in their curriculum along with Journalism and Mass Communication courses etc.
Some of the Institutes/Universities offering courses in Technical Writing :
i. University of Calicut, Kozhikode.
ii. Documentation Research and Training Centre ( D.R.T.C.) Bangalore.
iii. Xaviers Institute of Communi-cation, Mumbai.
iv. Post Graduate Diploma in Technical Communication (PGDTC), University of Pune.
v. And many private institutes also offer courses related to the field.
(Pradip Kumar Nath is Assistant Professor, National Institue of Rural Development & Hemprabha Chauhan is former Asst. Professor, Institute of Media & Technology, Gurgaon and Journalist Rajendranagar, Hyderabad-500030)