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Technical writers: to be or no to be

Writing, technical writing, technical writer.

Technical writers: To be or not to be


Rama Kant Mishra

Well design documentation of well designed software appeals audience to a greater extent and helps in communicating in effective manner. A good documentation of software reduces the burden of seeking technical support from the product development company. And that is how Software Company felt important going for technical documentation. Technical writing per se in IT came into the arm in late nineties, when IT company sensed that the documentation was equally critical as design, development, coding and testing of software.

Not to mention the demand of technical writers which are ever increasing and industry is finding it tough to get the right match for the requirement. Not that the technical writing was not done earlier in the software company and its a recent development; the difference now and then is that the emphasis were not laid too much on good technical documentation. The developers or testers were involved in technical writing, in addition to the software building.

Eventually it wasn’t their main job; therefore the quality of documentation could not be kept at paramount interest. It was a part of the software development but not the software development, that’s how the notion proved to be. Today, industry has realized the importance of good documentation of the software. The earnest interest generated into requirement could be traced back to the fact that some of the third party by merely writing application software tutorial and user guide made fortune. In fact some of the support function company flourished over the period of time just by doing documentation of software as third party.

Now that the technical writing is a well recognized wing in most of the sizeable software development and service company, its really hard to digest the fact that good writers are rarely available to meet the existing demand. This is true in the sense that writers are neither born nor made, they just happen to be writer. Many people are either logical or creative minded. If you're the kind of person who enjoys both logic and creativity, you may enjoy technical writing. Technical writers must analyze and understand science and technology (a logical activity) and then find creative ways to communicate this information. In fact, this is the blend of both the quality.

It does not matter which industry you're considering for a career, it probably employs technical writers. Technical writers work in computer science, medicine, environmental studies, electronics, government, cinema, the aerospace industry, and just about any field in which people must interpret and use technology. They are an indispensable part of today's technology world.

The job is where you do the same thing over and again. If this is your palate, technical writing may be the field for you. If you like the challenge of writing for an audience, technical writing offers you the chance to make money while just doing that. Technical writers work in a challenging, and exciting field that tests their ability to adapt to new situations and learn new skills. People who enjoy learning new things will find technical communication a stimulating career.

Technical writers take knowledge from engineers, scientists, doctors, and other experts and render it into forms that lay people can understand. To do this, they must have the willingness to continually learn about new subject matter. And they must know how best to present information to different audiences – from technically trained people to the general public.

The present situation where American way of looking at technical writers is being followed: every software company is looking for engineers to be the technical writers. The job is first offered to the engineers who want to make a career in technical writing and if the engineers are not available, only then the focus is turned on to other suitable incumbent. However, in software industry, most often the question is being asked “Can engineers write well?”, yet they are preferred over others. The idea might be that engineers can understand technology better than the other lots. Then, what if they are not able to communicate well? Although, this might not be a generic problem. The question is now haunted for the hiring department, whom to rely on: a good writer without engineering background or an engineer without good writing skill.

Software industry truly believes in re-engineering the product and even resources. However, the belief of re-engineering an engineer into a good writer is a difficult task at hand and in some cases a utopian dream. “Technology can be taught and learnt in a year or two, but learning a good language is the fruit of years learning process and that can not be given in a packet form” -- quotes an industry expert. This holds true to the case that most of our institution emphasize on imparting technological education whereas they ignore the fact that without good communication the impact of technology can not be realized. This is indeed going to cause talent deficiency and industry might get the burn of this sooner or later.

There are some good trends coming up where some software company is weighing options to utilize services of good writers who have adaptation of learning new technology faster and translate them effectively into precise writing.
For many of the aspiring creative writer working as a technical writer might seem a good option because it is going to be paid well. If you are transitioning from your current non-writing position to technical writing because it's a hot market, you like technology, and/or you want to do away with your freelance tag, perhaps you are thinking right. But in case you just like writing, then you should think before you step in.
Writing and editing user manuals, help documents, technical bulletin and API document could be painful if you don’t love doing so. Technical writing is demanding and you will be tried writing different sort of technical stuff which might not satisfy your liking for writing what you are looking for. So before deciding to choose a career into technical writing you must evaluate yourself.
Some would prefer to go for highly satisfying writing career of their liking even if it pays them less. Some would love to write about technology and enjoy doing so. Some would find technical writing as boring and unimaginative. Some would find technical writing as very interesting and creative, as it relates to problem solving and that requires lot of creativity. Follow your instinct to know where you fall among these categories.
To be in technical writing you just not required to have knowledge of MS Word alone. To be good technical writer you must have multiple skills that open up your prospect of an employable technical writer. Technical writers who has knowledge of specialized software packages such as FrameMaker, PageMaker, Robo Help, CAD, QuarkXPress, graphic design, Illustrator, HTML or other programming or authoring languages are the one who can be earning high. If you have these knowledge or you are going to learn, you may think of rewarding career in technical writing.
Before making any kind of career change, it would be advisable to evaluate your work style, strengths and weaknesses. Technical writing can be a great field for self-motivated, flexible individuals with a knack for taking the complicated writing and making it clear and understandable. But it also requires dedication, attention to detail, and the ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
Technical writing is rarely short cut, especially when the topic is software or new products. Specifications, functions, even the product name can change several times with revisions and you are expected to keep pace. If you are lazy and thinking of happy go lucky way of job, don’t think of technical writing.
Advantages of technical writing are: it's a hot field, the pay is good, the work is plentiful, and you're on the cutting edge of information. If you want to make a lot of money, enjoy learning and don't mind the grind, technical writing is a great place to try your mechanical writing skills.
But it may take your concentrated effort, energy and money to get your knowledge base and skills to the level necessary to secure high-paying jobs. And tech writing can not provide you time to provide for your other writing projects and that might lead you frustrated and unpublished. If you are in the middle of lots of writing and publishing and you know, that is what you want to do, think twice before weighing the option of becoming technical writer.
These are few of the consideration, reviewing your option to be a technical writer. If it is not going to mix up with your well thought, long-term writing goal and could sustain you well as writer, take a ride of your life in cutting edge world of computer writing. And if it makes you feel that technical writing is not the magical path of fame and fortune what you thought it would, then you have saved yourself. Either way, you can be sure of the knowledge for making a well thought decision of a technical writer: to be or not to be.
Published: 2006-12-18
Author: Rama Kant Mishra

About the author or the publisher
I have done Masters in Fisheries Management and have written and published articles on Fisheries, Agriculture, Medical, Pharmaceutical, political, self Improvement and Career. Professionally working for an IT company as a Technical Writer. I love to write and publish and have worked as freelance writer, ghost writer and as special correspondent for print media. You may find me contributing on www.merinews.com and www.groundreport.com You may reach me at mishraramakant@gmail.

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