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7 steps to a career in writing
July 13, 2005
You have registered for the e-banking facilities provided by your bank and are trying to figure out how to request the bank to stop payment on a cheque you've issued.
You can look for instructions in the booklet that the bank sent you in the starter kit.
You could view the demo or click the 'Help' link on the screen.
These aids that you can refer to -- the booklet, the demo, the help information section -- are created by technical writers.
Technical writing is presenting information that is technical in nature to its intended audience. The information could be conveyed as the printed word, online information or as a multimedia demonstration.
The scope for technical writing
Technical writing is a flourishing industry with entry level monthly salaries in the range of Rs 8,000 to Rs 12,000, depending on the size of the company and the industry.
In India, one industry where you would find technical writers aplenty is software.
For software projects and products, technical writers create:
- User documentation like manuals, guides and online help.
- Systems documentation like specifications and design documents.
- Marketing and pre-sales collateral like case studies, white papers and proposals.
- Documents for corporate communications like annual reports, press releases and corporate web site content.
- Training material like guides and interactive demos.
Other industries where technical writers thrive include pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, engineering, aerospace and electronics.
7 steps in the technical writing process
The typical activities in the lifecycle of a technical writing assignment are:
i. Understand whom you are writing for
While interacting with the users of the document is the best way of doing this, it may not always be possible.
So the next best bet is probably the project team, especially the people involved in designing the product or application.
ii. Understand what you are writing about
To identify the information to be included in the document, you need to understand the solution.
Working with the product or application, interacting with the development team as well as domain experts and reading other documents are some popular methods of gathering information.
iii. Create the document outline
Before you start writing the document, you need to have a document structure in place; to know what you are going to include and in what order.
iv. Writing the document
This is the stage at which the actual document takes shape.
v. Submit for review
As portions of the document are completed, they are submitted for review to ensure the information is useful, complete and accurate.
vi. Implement feedback
The document is refined based on the feedback.
vii. Submit the final document
4 skills/ attributes of a technical writer
Check if you fulfill the following criteria:
i. Excellent language skills
ii. Interpersonal skills
iii. Ability and willingness to learn about the relevant domain and technology
iv. Proficiency in the tools of the trade
Commonly used tools
i. For print publications: Microsoft Word, Adobe FrameMaker
ii. For help authoring: RoboHelp, Quadralay WebWorks
iii. XML-based systems: Arbortext Epic Editor, Structured Adobe FrameMaker
iv. Screen Capture Tools: TechSmith SnagIt, Inbit FullShot
v. Illustrations and Graphics: Microsoft Visio, Adobe Photoshop
vi. Interactive demos: Macromedia Captivate, TechSmith Camtasia
What are the growth prospects?
~ You can progress from being a technical writer to a senior technical writer to a project leader before working your way towards becoming a documentation manager.
~ Technical writers, especially those focused on a particular domain, gather a lot of domain expertise and can progress to becoming business analysts.
~ Usability is another career track you can move to from technical writing.
As you work with various solutions, you gain an insight into how the design of a solution can be improved to make it more user-friendly.
~ If you gain experience in creating training material, instructional design is a natural evolution.
~ Online Writing Lab at Purdue University at www.owl.english.purdue.edu
~ Guide to Grammar and Writing at www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar
~ Online Technical Writing Textbook at www.io.com/~hcexres/tcm1603/acchtml/acctoc.html
~ The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, edition three, Microsoft Corporation
~ The Chicago Manual of Style, edition 15, The University of Chicago Press
Want to know more about technical writing?
Check out the 3-day Technical Writing Workshop in Mumbai.
P Aruna and Suvarna Pandit work with TASC Consulting, a Mumbai-based company which provides technical writing and courseware development services. TASC Consulting conducts comprehensive training in technical writing processes and tools for corporates and individuals. You can find more details at www.tascindia.com.