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.

Docsymmetry

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

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
rephrase.

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!

NOTES

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,

Kartik.

11 comments:

Anindita said...

This is a very helpful article. Well done Kartikeya :)

kooksi said...

Thanks ma'am!

Rashmi said...

extremely lucid writing style!!way to go, Kartikeya.

kooksi said...

Thank you Rashmi :)

Ancie said...

ThanQ, Kartikeya. Very comprehensive article from a new-comer's point of view.

Kartikeya Dwivedi. said...

Thank you Ancie! I'm glad you liked and appreciated it!

ananth said...

it was very informative,thanks a lot!

Anonymous said...

Welcome Ananth.

Regards,

Kartik.

Anonymous said...

Nice initiative..Good luck!

Ashritha said...

This is superbbbb article which helps me a lot.
Thank you sooooo much

Kartikeya Dwivedi said...

Welcome Ashritha!