Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Technical Writers need to do more?

As a Technical Author/Technical Writer/Technical Communicator, I’d like to believe that apart from churning out reams of documentation and striving to make help, more helpful−using different mediums, tools, technologies, social Media platforms−it is our prerogative to reduce the need for help, increase user adoption, enhance user experience, optimize application usability and polish the information architecture. I know that this is a big chunk out of usability, but with companies cutting costs, would it bode well for the Technical Writers to familiarize themselves with the skills needed to achieve the value adds mentioned above? 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The New Age Technical Writer

As do most professions, Technical Writing is also undergoing a sea change. Gone are the days when a Technical Writer was just expected to churn out document after document, be it installation manuals, user guides or training manuals.
As times are changing, the way people perceive and search for information is also changing. Students today not only rely on their text books; they find information over the internet through search engines and visit online forums for detailed discussions over specific topics. The very concept of education is undergoing change. There are numerous online companies offering courses on various subjects.
Technical Writers have been the teachers of technical information for a long time. This change in ways of learning and understanding has put the onus on Technical Writers to update their skill set and deliver information according to the needs of the present.
Although the traditional user guide and online help will not be replaced in the near future, there are few additions to the deliverables for a Technical Writer. 

Some of them are explained below:

• Videos and Video casts

Recent studies indicate that users have narrower attention spans than that of their predecessors. The learners of today rely heavily on visual representations. Hence using short videos to explain concepts is a trend which is gathering steam. It is a trend that is most commonly seen in newer applications of Google. Along with the supporting documentation, an introductory video is also provided by Google. The searing popularity of YouTube is further proof of the demand and effectiveness of videos.
New age Technical Writers should develop video recording skills, along with knowledge of video capturing and demo creation software like Camtasia and Captivate. These applications are handy in preparing video based tutorials. The video should be long enough to be useful, but not too long to lull the users to sleep. A brief know-how of voice modulation techniques, sound engineering, and story boarding will be valuable additions in this quest.

Blogs and Forums

Search engines have become the primary searching tool for people needing information. Users are more likely to try and find a solution for their queries on blogs and online forums rather than scour through the user guide. This is why most applications have online help. It works out to be a win-win situation for users as well as application manufacturers. Users discuss common problems on online forums, and more often than not, find information to help them out through them.
New age Technical Writers need to understand the effects of social media and Web 2.0 and how it is changing the way people search for information. They need to maintain blogs for their products and services, and ensure that not only are these blogs updates regularly, but that they take contributor comments seriously. This collaborative type of mutual assistance is the future of Technical Writing. Wikipedia is living proof that such models are popular and helpful to the end users. These steps not only provide customer satisfaction, they also are a great public relations/marketing tool for the product and service as it shows that the user is cared for, leading to tremendous goodwill generation. The key things for a successful blog will be credibility, consistency, and relevance. Also, though blogs are useful marketing tools, care should be taken to keep user interest foremost. If users feel that you are trying desperately trying to promote your services, it may lead to serious loss of credibility.

• Usability Design and Testing

Many applications fail to be as useful as they could be for a user and the primary bottleneck for this is poor usability of the application. Also, a website may post great content, but if it's not user-friendly, the user can get frustrated pretty quickly. Users want quick answers, with minimal clicks, and it is now becoming a Technical Writers job to endure just that.
Technical Writing is veering towards User Assistance. New age Technical Writers don't just have to write user manuals, they need to do all they can to make the tool or the product as user friendly as possible. Right from the time an application is being developed; Technical Writers need to be involved in the design of the application or the website. Keeping in mind the end user, they need to ensure that the design and architecture of an application is clear and user friendly.
While there are others skills that a Technical Writer has to learn, the ones mentioned in this article are where the future of Technical Writing is heading.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Start of Work Questionnaire



Table of Contents

1. What is the Product?. 3

2. Who is the Audience?. 3

3. What is their Readability Index?. 3

4. What is the Purpose?. 3

5. What is the Deliverable?. 4

6. What are the available Resources?. 4

7. What is the preferred Writing Style?. 4

8. What is the Timeline?. 4

9. Who are the Key Information resources?. 4

Whenever starting on a new project, go through this questionnaire. All of them may not be applicable, so pick and choose. This is a broad outline.

1. What is the Product?

· The detailed description of the product.

· Its various features, applications, practical uses.

· How is it different and better than the existing market products?

· How will it help the users?( Helpful in writing the Introduction)

· What is its scope, its limitations, known limitations?

2. Who is the Audience?

· Who are the people who are going to use the product, and hence may need to use the documentation?

· What is their designation? Their educational background?

· Any other specific details?

3. What is their Readability Index?

· What is the comprehension level of the end user?

· Who is the average user? Define.

· Who is or can be the least qualified user of the application? Do they want to document keeping him in mind? Do they want to document the product keeping a specific user (say a system admin) in mind and let other users call tech support?

4. What is the Purpose?

· Why are we creating the document?

· What purpose does it serve?

· What measurable difference will it make to the end user (like easier understanding of application, hassle free and quick solutions) or you (like lesser calls to help desk, increased product credibility, boost in sales and thus higher ROI)?

5. What is the Deliverable?

· User Guise, Web Help, Quick Reference Guide, Video Based Tutorial, Installation Manual, Trouble shooting Guide, Computer Based Tutorial, Maintenance Guide, Release Notes, White Paper? What is your (Technical Writers’) opinion on the deliverable?

· What is the output format? PDF? .doc/.docx file? Web help? Printed doc?

6. What are the available Resources?

· Do you have access to the Internet, if onsite?

· Do you have access to the application, if off-site?

· What are the tools that you will require, considering the deliverables?

· Do they have the proper Computer setup and is it in place?( May and does lead to delays)

· Does that particular computer have all the application you require?

· Can you download trial versions of tools needed, if any?

· Where do they need their documentation stored? Do they need the images?

7. What is the preferred Writing Style?

· Do they follow a style guide?

· Do they have a template? Do we have to make one?

· Do they have copyright information/logo/ other things they want to incorporate in the document?

· Do they prefer an informal style of writing?

· Do they have previous written documentation? Do they want to follow the same writing style? Do they want to deviate from it? If so, how?

8. What is the Timeline?

· What is the deadline? (Do you need to negotiate over the deadline?)

· What are the working hours of the company?

· What time will the SME’s be available?

9. Who are the Key Information resources?

· Who are the SME’s? Their contact numbers, e-mail addresses, extension numbers and designations.

· Who are the Project Managers? Their Contact numbers, e-mail addresses, extension numbers.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lots of Thank you's.

Today, I completed my first solo Technical Writing project. It was about Cheque Truncation System. The clients find me competent enough to immediately start on another application, which is yay! I have finally done what I wanted to do. To curb my Creative Writing instincts, I write this. How did I get into Technical Writing? Why? Who were responsible?

I was bored of designing Heat Exchangers. Not that it is a boring job. It’s just that, it wasn’t for me. Right since the time I could form sentences, I had derived immense pleasure in writing. People would appreciate the effort too. Each person unfailingly scoffed at my horrid handwriting though. God bless Keyboards and Print-outs. Due to certain circumstances which are best ignored (What do we say, let sleeping dog’s lie.); I came out of the academic grind as a Mechanical Engineer. I would have traded many a teeth and perhaps my weaker left arm for a degree in Arts or Journalism. Make no mistake; I am no English Literature fan. Neither do I fancy Keats (Well, I really am not a poetry person), nor do I want to prod a mike in a sloshed actor’s face-I felt and robustly maintain that I would have been better off with a degree in either Journalism or Arts. Those degrees would have given me the needed writing exercise and practice. I just love writing. I am happiest while Writing or playing Football in the rain.

I am not what you may call ‘bright’, ‘intelligent’ or ‘sharp’ even. One thing you will surely call me is pretty darn lucky! I have had the privilege of being tutored, mentored and guided by the best. I want to thank all of them and let the world know how cool they are! Most have shied away from my appreciation and said, “Hey man, it’s all you”. But I know where to give credit when it’s due, and by God I will do just that. As some of them have taught me how to write coherently and chronologically, I will list their names and qualities in the same manner.

Nazeeruddin Ikram- It all started with Nazeer Sir. I bet he still squirms when I call him that, ‘Sir’. I was searching for ‘Freelance Content Writing’ jobs on Orkut. Someone happened to give me an offer. I was unsure of accepting it. Miraculously, I found his Orkut profile in some community. I don’t remember how and why I approached him for advice, but I sure as hell don’t regret it! He paved the way for my foray into Technical Writing. Most of the people who have mentored or tutored me will agree that I ask too many questions, mostly stupid ones at that. However, I saved the most senseless ones for him. If there were a Guinness for patience and politeness, he would be right up there. Add one for being knowledgeable too. Nazeer Sir, I thank you.

Rahul Prabhakar- The Internet is vast. Everyone knows that. It is also intimidating for someone looking for some information. There is so much of it! Not every bit of it is relevant or correct. I was in a tizzy until I chanced upon a yahoogroup owned by Rahul Prabhakar. He accepted my invitation and gave me a jump-start with a few Tech Craft newsletters. He is himself an excellent writer and a role model. On joining the group, I had a vast resource of reliable information and many a helpful people on my side! Rahul, I thank you.

Sumedh Nene-I had begun my journey into Technical writing, but was all at sea! No lesser than when I was developing Hangar doors for Indian Naval Ships. Due to the geographical distance between me and Nazeer Sir, it was difficult. I needed someone to tell me what Technical Writing was in an organized manner. It is then that I happened to read about his 4 day weekend workshop on Software Documentation. Pune was not very far from Mumbai, so I decided to attend it. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life! His abridged notes are extremely handy. I might go as far as to call it my Quick Reference Technical Writing Bible. Apart from his tips on Technical Writing, he would be the one to call me and instill the confidence needed to face an interview, along with priceless insights, of course. People say; to be successful, replicate the actions of successful people. Well, I want to be like Sumedh Sir. Helpful, good at his job and content. Sumedh Sir, I thank you.

Swapnil Gupte- I met Swapnil at one of Sumedh Sir’s workshops. He came across as a silent and friendly person. We hit it off instantly. I have been in touch with him even after the workshop and he has always been extremely helpful. Be it discussing interview questions, or sending me a CD full of TW apps, Swapnil has always been there. He is a tech whiz, and I honestly doubt if there is any application he does not know of! Swapnil, I thank you.

Kashmira Mulye- I knew what Technical Writing was about. I knew I could fit in. But employers wanted tool knowledge. I didn’t have a lot of it. Being the spoon fed guy I am I was uncomfortable learning new things on my own! (And now I have made a 150 page manual ON my own) Mulye madam not only gave me a push by teaching me the basics, she also instilled the much needed confidence. I was scared of changing industries. I was a tad apprehensive of getting out of my comfort zone for my love of writing. The recession was looming. She assured me to dive in, calling me a natural. I took her advice and I’ve never been happier. She also got me a few job offers. Mulye madam, I thank you.

Aruna Panangipally and Ibruk staff- She is my new boss. An ideal one at that. She is the best boss a Newbie Technical Writer could have. She told me clearly what she expected of me- “Delivering information”. Not five years of experience in tools. She also had the confidence in me to deliver a User Guide on site. In all earnest, I had thought that I would be under training for a few days before documenting anything! When she asked me if I was up for a challenge on my first day, I thought I would be asked to give a test! But off I went to the client site. I wanted to repost her faith, but was overwhelmed the first day. I didn’t think I could do it. I spoke to Sumedh Sir, and he helped me immensely. I was a bundle of nerves! And when I said, I didn’t get any training, I was so wrong! Aruna madam and the whole staff of Ibruk were so helpful and co-operative! Whenever I was in a rut, I knew I could depend on them. Aruna ma’am encouraged me constantly, and helped me, tutored me whenever I was stuck. In the end of it all, I am glad! And so are the clients as they are happy with my job and want me to start documenting another application immediately!
Aruna ma’am and all, I thank you.

After a lot of thank you’s. I would also like to thank my dad who understood my decision to overlook money for job satisfaction and supported me throughout. And my pals who have read my articles and praised me even if they weren’t so cool! I love my life!


Kartikeya Dwivedi.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Technical Writing vs Creative Writing

Writing, like Cricket has different forms. There are the tests, one days and the recently formed 20/20's in Cricket. Similarly, writing has Technical Writing, Creative Writing and Content Writing.

The different forms of the game have their own specialists. However, a good cricketer can succeed in any form of the game. Take a batsman for instance. A batsman with a sound defense, wide array of shots and the willingness to adapt and learn quickly and constantly is bound to succeed in any form of the game. Same applies to any form of writing. A writer with solid command over grammar, decent vocabulary and the knack of learning new things all the time is bound to be good in any form of writing. Like a cricketer has to keep practicing and update himself, a writer has to keep writing, experimenting and reading.

Hence, if you stick to the basics, are well read and ready to constantly update yourself, you can deliver successful documentation and write the best seller too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What the hell is Technical Writing?

This was the first question that crept into my mind when I read about it on the net. Gosh, could there be so many forms of writing? There was Fiction writing ,Non- fiction writing, creative writing, content writing, feature writing, etc. Technical writing? What was that?

I am a Mechanical Engineer working in a ship building firm. I am not dissatisfied with my job. However, in my heart of hearts I have always fancied myself as a Writer. I want to write for a living. I am already writing web content on a freelance basis. On learning about Technical Writing, it has become all too clear to me. This is the profession I want to shift to. Now (2008) is the right time too! There is a tremendous demand for Technical Writer’s because of a demand- supply imbalance.

The term Technical writing is new to me like so many of you. Some know about it vaguely. I have done a lot of research on the particular topic and would like to share it with people who want to know about the field, venture into it or are skeptical about it.

What does a Technical Writer do? Write Technical articles? Stuff related to technology? Is it related to the field of I.T- software and computers? Well, yes and no. A Technical writer writes technical articles. However, what is technical to you may not be technical to me. For example, Laproscopy is technical for an engineer but not for a doctor. Similarly, Whitworth’s Quick Return Mechanism is ‘Technical’ for a Doctor. Understand the world ‘Technical’? It is some information, field or domain you are unaware of. It is the Technical Writers’ job to help you understand the information with the help of user guides, installation manuals, troubleshooting guides, etc. They are supposed to relay information unknown to you in a simple and concise fashion in order to help you do something. For example, install software, cook pasta, understand mutual funds or operate your washing machine, etc. When we buy a mobile, we also get a user guide with it. A Technical Writer must have written it. That is the best example I can give!

Technical writing is not restricted to the Software domain only. This is a common misconception. Wherever there is need for documentation, there is the need for Technical Writers. Some of the fields are Engineering (All forms), Medical, Legal, Banking, Insurance, Accounting, Science, Etc.

A Technical Writer is a writer first. Although Technical know-how is a plus, most Technical Writers of today are from non- tech backgrounds like Arts and Mass Communications. One must be good at language and possess a clear and analytical brain. A head for technical concepts and passion for communication in English are the basic requirements. More about the skill set required is mentioned here.

A more detailed and focussed study of the essential skills are mentioned Read here and Read here . Going through them right now is not necessary but advisable.

Ok, So Technical Writing is cool. But…

How Do I go about becoming a TECHNICAL WRITER?

I am hardly an expert and a newbie to this profession but this is what I have done and it has helped a LOT!

A. Go through these websites.


Wikipedia (Wikis can be edited, but this one is decently accurate)

Get your hands on 'How to become a Technical Writer by Susan Bilheimer. ( I can help you with a pdf.)

There are hundreds of web sites and e-books that I have come across but these are the simplest and most informative. This saves you time on ‘Googling’ for the info! They will give you a clear idea about the field. You can then decide if this is your cup of tea or not. Decide here and here only if you want to move ahead. There should be no turning back now!

B. Ask around for a Technical Writing Workshop like the one I attended. They are mostly weekend courses which will give you a fair idea of what Technical Writing is all about. I shall highly recommend Crackerjack Wordsmith's (Lap this site up too.). It is not mandatory for everyone to join a workshop or a course. It helped me tremendously and hence I am suggesting it to you. There are many courses which are on offer but I can't vouch for any of them. Some do offer Job assistance. Feel free to talk to them. Some tools need to be learnt which can be learnt on the job too. The basic reason behind the course is to understand the principles of Technical Writing.

C.If you choose to do the course, well, that’s all the help that you need. Just remember to ask a lot of questions. Become a child again. A technical writer has to interview subject matter experts and so this habit shall bode well for your future. Although, your questions, the ones asked to the SME should be intelligent, well timed and researched. You have to try to learn and research yourself. If still, you are stuck somewhere, ask the SME’s. Remember the above points though!

If you don’t feel the need/ can’t do the course, start giving interviews. A course is after all, a course and actual learning starts on the job. As there is a HUGE requirement right now, one should get in provided:

i) You hone your English. Read The Elements of Style
ii) Get a hang of M.S.Office
iii) Market yourself by making a few work samples. Make an instruction manual on how to operate a vacuum cleaner for example.Go throught the help files of your software (by pressing F1) to get an idea. Now is not a not a nice time, but I have to mention it. Employers do prefer someone with either experience or a course under the belt.
iv) Be prepared for the interview. Here are some standard questions.

1. Paragraph on punctuation & grammar. (VERY IMPORTANT)

2. Editing test that can include a paragraph that you may need to

3. Essay of about 150-200 words on why do you think you are
suitable for the post or maybe related to one of the stages of DDLC &
how you can add value to the company.

Ans. Value adds- a. Bring in the user’s perspective.
b. Help define a long term documentation strategy.
c. Document internal processes.
d. Raise issues with the software / application that may potential issues with
the users

4. English language & technical writing concepts (objective-type)

Question. What is Technical Writing?

Ans. Technical Writing is a method of communicating technical information to non technical
people. It’s goal is to simplify the technical language so a layman’s can understand it.

5. Software that prospective employer is using for documentation.
(Word/ FrameMaker/RoboHelp) [can be objective-type/ descriptive]

6. Related to domain.
(if the company is seeking professionals having experience/ knowledge in specific domains)
[can be objective-type/ descriptive]

7. Topic narration (descriptive, not more than 300 words).

D. Join a yahoo group called Technical_writers_India by mailing a request to prabhakar.rahul@gmail.com . Tell him that you are a budding Technical writer and would love to join the community. It is fantastic! The community boasts of the best in the business who are ready to help. All your queries, be it on tools, concepts or procedures will be solved there.

Well, that's about it. Hope this was helpful and hope that you succeed in this field!


Don’t worry about the salary of a Technical writer. Technical Writer’s are well paid. See for yourself here.

Last piece of advice.

Try to master a Domain as it will help you in the future. The Domain can be banking, networking or software. Keep learning about new things in a specific sector and try to become an authority in that field. Slowly but surely.

If you have any other queries,mail me at fms.kartikdwivedi@gmail.com . Even if I don't know the answer which shall be the case most of the time, I promise I'll find it for you!

Extra Interview Questions

Warm regards,