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