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 . 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 . 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,


Monday, February 4, 2008

MS Word 2003 - Stuff I have learnt.

How to-

--Insert a watermark?

1. On the Format menu, point to Background, and then click Printed Watermark.
( Alt o k w)

2. Do one of the following:

>> To insert a picture as a watermark click Picture Watermark, and then click Select Picture. Select the picture you want, and then click Insert.

>> To insert a text watermark, click Text Watermark, and then select or enter the text that you want.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My journey into Technical Writing

Disclaimer: I am just a new comer to this field, and would love not to rub anyone the wrong way. These opinions are personal and unqualified ones at that.
I came across the word ‘Technical Writing’ while I was surfing Orkut for freelance opportunities in content writing. It roused my curiosity. What was so 'technical' about writing? Being a creative writer, I just needed a reason and word processing software to begin epics on the world around us.

I happened to meet a certain Mr. Nazeeruddin Ikram, who is a Technical writer at Bangalore on Orkut. He gave me a fairly good idea about the field. I was initially overwhelmed. Trying to understand complex things each day and writing boring instructions was not my cup of tea!

I then happened to read about a workshop on Software Documentation held by Mr. Sumedh Nene , again on Orkut. Goes to show that social networking sites aren’t that bad!
That was the turning point for me. I chatted with him telephonically, and he was patient enough to answer all my queries. I decided to give his course a shot.

I understood the meaning of technical information and was surprised to know that Technical Writers are needed in legal, medical, banking, insurance, IT, accounting, scientific and engineering sectors.

I realized that my method of writing was completely different to what was expected from a Technical Writer. My style was too flowery, peppered with striking phrases and fancy vocabulary. It had its own niche audience. This would be my greatest challenge. Writing short, simple and concise instructions, comprehensible to the intended audience. I started writing instructions for everything from registering one’s own domain to making a paper plane. It was demanding but thoroughly enjoyable!

My other major concern was could Technical writing and Creative writing co-exist? Could a Technical writer write creatively and vice versa? To be honest, I have not yet found out a satisfactory answer to that. They are hugely different styles of writing but a writer is a writer. I shall try to maintain the right balance between the two forms.

I had mostly written articles in a jugular vein and toning down on my humor was going to be difficult. One could ill afford to joke while explaining the intricacies involved with the installation of expensive and complicated software, right?!

The more I listened to Sumedh sir’s lecture, the more I was convinced. It is the best field to switch to, if one is looking for a change in career. I have learnt it involves writing, analyzing and interviewing. It requires learning new technologies. The essential skill-sets for this profession are a good command over language and a knack for understanding technology. Technical Writers have to deal with complex technologies most of the time and an aptitude for quick learning shall be a plus. Technical writing is more about communicating clearly than about writing.

There are some primary skills that need to be developed in time too. Audience analysis and honing one’s interviewing skills are very important. A technical writer is chiefly a writer and can be summoned to cater to a variety of writing work. Editing resumes, taking minutes of a meeting, writing press releases or newsflashes for an updated product are also part of a Technical writer’s job profile.

One may be the first user of a product, so a Technical Writer is responsible for quality assuring the product, drawing attention to the bugs and ensuring user friendliness. Most software development companies’ work on tight schedules and one has to be deadline oriented. Proficiency in certain authoring and image capturing tools has to be developed. Software’s like Robohelp, Framemaker, Captivate, Microsoft Office and Snagit are most widely used as of now. Thorough knowledge of a particular domain will add to one’s value.

For a newcomer to the industry, I would highly recommend a workshop on Technical writing. Not only will it clear all doubts, it shall also explain to the person the needs and demands of the industry. One can get a hang of the software’s in vogue, understand about the document development life cycle, get to know the role of a technical writer and be prepared for the challenges ahead.

In my view, a person who is ready to learn new things constantly and improve and add to his skill sets shall be highly successful in the business of Technical writing. It is a craft that can be learnt with practice. I am excited at the prospect of landing a job and write for a living. It had always been a dream. It is the hottest vocation for writers as of now. Besides getting paid a writer becomes a more efficient communicator. Also, I know for a fact, that someone will actually read what I write!

Kartikeya Dwivedi