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Technical Writing
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Eligibility and Course Duration Industry Size Industry Growth Individual Growth Best Colleges
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Technical writers compile scientific or technical information into a useful and understandable form for a non-technical audience. They prepare user, installation, maintenance and instruction manuals, catalogues, parts lists, sales promotion materials, and project proposals. They also plan and edit technical reports and oversee the preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts.

Contrary to what many people believe, technical communication is not restricted to the IT industry alone.

Big companies or small, all of them need to communicate with their consumers. Putting difficult technical ideas across in a form understood by a layperson needs special writing skills- whether for manuals or proposals or articles. Technical Writers are a special breed of writers trained for this work.

In a world inundated with complex gadgets, life would be difficult without the assistance of Technical Writers. Being familiar with technology, the technical writer has the writing ability to simplify technical jargon into a language understood by most. Information manuals that come with consumer appliances like TVs, music systems and mobile phones and Help files in software programs such as Word or Windows, are some examples. There are also many industrial products which are far more complicated to use by a layman. For example, a wireless communication system or a banking software.

Before you conjure images of writing user manuals for a lifetime, technical writing also provides you the opportunity to do product advertisements, pamphlets, brochures, reports and in-house publications.

 
Job Profile

The job of a technical writer calls for a lot of research, precision and effective communication. Whether it involves developing a Help and FAQ section for a website or standard documentation for a software product, a technical writer is required to convey concepts in an easy to understand manner, but without compromising on explanation of necessary technical specifications and jargon.

When it comes to software development, more often than not, a technical writer will be in constant touch with the design and development team, helping in finalising interfaces, creating Help modules, and generating a list of user-friendly error messages. When writing for an IT magazine or for a website, technical writers need to be abreast of the latest trends in the industry, both in the events sphere as well as the personalities associated with them. Citing examples from similar situations in the past and drawing analogies, ably supported by facts and figures, help increase the credibility of a writer. All this is possible through thorough research, meeting people from the industry and attending seminars and product launches.

Eligibility

Factually speaking, there is nothing like a fixed basic qualification for a technical writer. Although companies may ask for a degree in science and/or technology and/or a post graduate degree in English/mass communication/journalism, what they are really looking for is an ability to understand and interpret technology, and explain that in the best and fewest words possible.

A potential technical writer needs just four things: domain knowledge, an excellent command over the language, a wide-ranging interest in technology, especially computer literacy if working for industry other than IT, and communication skills.

By domain knowledge we mean understanding of a particular industry or segment, say banking industry, health, medicine, pharmaceutical, software etc.

A good command over the English language means knowledge of grammar, an impressive vocabulary, the ability to maintain verbal consistency, structure and style, and so on. Of course, an abiding passion for reading always helps.

Good interviewing and interpersonal skills are attributes which will take you a long way in the technical writing field. These skills are necessary because you will be required to interact with a lot of employees from Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), such as programmers, engineers, managers, and the lot. It would be helpful if you have an awareness of logical development and assumptions, especially if you are planning to do documentation of software.

One should be a good writer with an ability to grasp technology. In India, people in this profession are from different backgrounds. You have both people who have an arts/journalism/writing background and a flair for technology, as well as engineers who have a flair for writing. Other important traits that a technical writer must possess are: editing text to a friendly form, and presentation skills.

A postgraduate or even a graduate degree or training in English literature, language, journalism, science or IT can be of great help to an upcoming professional.

Technical writers have to cope with the stress of working against deadlines and juggling several projects simultaneously (multi-tasking). Prolonged spells of desk work on computers means that you should be comfortable working solo. Lifelong learning is the most important trait for a technical writer- you must be interested in almost everything and willing to learn as much as you can about it.

It takes a certain skill to make the highly technical into highly simple for the end user. It takes a mind that can grasp fundamentals and simplify them interestingly for the layperson. It takes a methodical mind that actually enjoys working on the painstakingly, fine details.

Study/Training

we can choose between a hardcore technical writer's job or a relatively more generic feature writing function with IT magazines and portals. The qualifications required to apply for the job of a technical writer depends a lot on the type and scope of work as outlined by the recruiting company.

Developing documentation for a software development firm will require basic knowledge of computer hardware, operating systems, software applications and programming languages. Make sure you are at least familiar with Windows and applications running in the Windows environment, because most formats are predetermined and it is better to adhere to established standards of file formats.

Ability to understand and code basic-to-intermediate HTML will come in handy when applying for a dot-com. From the software repertoire angle, thorough knowledge of popular word processing applications and intermediate level know-how of layout software applications can also be a prerequisite for a job interview. In addition to this, some employers may require that you be conversant with software applications that are designed specially to aid in the creation and management of data for specific functions like Help modules and database functions.

Thus, you need to develop ability to work with word processing tools like MS Word, MS PowerPoint; desktop publishing, like Page maker, MS FrontPage, Adobe FrameMaker; online authoring applications like RoboHELP or Dreameweaver and ForeFront's ForeHelp; and web tools like HTML and XML coding. RoboHelp is more widely used than ForeHelp and is more in demand. Knowledge of Microsoft FrontPage will also prove to be advantageous.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest hurdles in India is the lack of technical communication courses. No university in the country offers a comprehensive course in technical communication. On the brighter side, some institutes/organisations, operated by experienced professionals in this field, have taken the initiative to start some courses in technical writing. S.A. International Ltd., Chennai, in association with Simon Fraser University, Canada, is offering a certificate course in technical writing. Private institutions such as Technowrites www.technowrites.com in Pune and Deldot systems in Bangalore offer certified courses in technical writing.

Micro Academy www.microacademy.com also provides training in collaboration with Xpression www.techxpression.com professional technical writing company located in Bangalore. These are autonomous courses. Indian National Scientific Documentation Centre (INSDOC) in New Delhi also offers courses in documentation. Technical Writing is also being taught as one paper in some mass communication courses, but its scope is limited.

There are several universities abroad that offer graduate and higher-level courses in technical writing. Some of these courses can be taken online, but most are pretty expensive! (Some examples www.writingschool.com and www.onlineworkshops.com . Joining a professional association can be helpful in exchanging experiences and in keeping yourself updated. (Useful web sites include those of India chapter of Society for Technical Communication, stc-india.org and its other chapters like http://www.stc.org and technical writers of India web site www.twin-india.org

The first job

Although awareness of technical writing is low, it is interesting that quite a number of writers have started into a career as a technical writer.

However, generally speaking, the first technical writing job is difficult to get. This is primarily due to the fact that many Indian companies prefer people with experience. For the first job you need to show your writing skills as well as the ability to understand technology. The best way is to send some samples of your writings. If you do not have a sample, make one. This will give you a good idea of what the job involves, as well as an insight into the various factors involved in technical writing. Try to find a short, badly written manual and re-write it. Then have the original and the re-written manual as the proof to your abilities. However, most companies have their own standard interview/test patterns which include a test of English language, technical tests, and so on.

Remuneration depends upon the type of employment, academic qualification and experience you bring to the job; contractual/freelance work fetches in high amounts depending upon the volume and degree of sophistication. Regular (full-time) employment in the IT sector can bring in any amount between Rs 8,000 to Rs 20,000 at the entry level. However, it is difficult to get established as a freelancer without prior work experience and the right networking skills and contacts. As more and more new products and technologies are being developed constantly, the need to develop user-friendly manuals and distributing aided documentation, keeps on creating newer opportunities for individuals wanting to pursue a career in technical writing. In addition to the growing demand, the low numbers of Technical Writers in India means a certain minimal market demand.

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