What is technical writing?
Technical writing involves presenting technical information in a professional setting. Technical writing is a specialized field and the primary job of every technical writer is to effectively communicate the intricacies in an easily understandable manner. To communicate effectively the technical writers need good communication skills. In addition, proficiency in computers is also a handy quality to have Technical writing; as it is commonly understood, involves writing user manuals and online help.
The term technical documentation, however, is a much wider term and involves different technologies and genres. It encompasses memos, press releases, white papers, business reports, product descriptions, resumes, job applications, etc. Not all types of technical documentation involve technical writers but their inputs are always helpful. It definitely helps if the technical writers are subject matter experts, too. If not, it is always advisable to consult a subject matter expert before presenting it for final consumption.
No wonder a career in technical writing is highly sought after. The technical writers are much in demand in industries such as energy, finance, manufacturing, engineering, and medical business. The list is not exhaustive and the technical writers are also in demand in fields like software, consulting academia, telecommunication to name just a few. To tread on the technical writer career path, one has to plan ahead. Like any other profession, technical writing has its fair share of challenges. Some of them are:
1) Technical writing involves jargon. .A fine balance has to be struck between the technical terms and making the content effective. To make the writing useful would involve juggling the jargon and commonly understood words.
2) It can sometimes be boring and monotonous. Technical writing involves facts and figures and gives lesser room for creativity as opposed to creative writing. The challenge is to make technical writing as expressive as possible because the rewards of technical writing far outweigh the challenges.
3) It involves responsibility. Technical writing involves hard facts and any discrepancy from the set standards or wrong interpretation can lead to legal issues and wrangles.
The rewards, however, can be very exciting, The technical writing being a highly specialized field, the technical writers are much in demand. Being an expert in the domain and possessing good communication skills can make one a winner in this profession. Some benefits of working in this field are::
1) Developing expertise and command in the chosen field. Technical writing being a specialized field, the constant research helps one in sharpening the knowledge base and helps in career progression.
2) Staying in touch with the latest that the industry has to offer.
3) Getting exposure to some really interesting projects.
To chart a career in technical writing, one has to keep a systematic approach. Some of the steps which have to be taken to build a career can be summarised as follows:
1) Getting certified to build a career in technical writing – Though it is not a compulsion, getting certified does help in cracking a job especially for beginners. To know the nuances of writing and to polish the skills, a diploma or even a certification can go a long way. With numerous courses for the content writing on offer, a good course can be of great help. The best part is that such courses are available both online and offline i.e. classroom-based.
There are weekends as well as weekdays batches available and they are flexible with the timings as well. Good writing can be developed through practice. The knowledge of computers in technical writing cannot be overemphasized. The medium used in technical writing is not only text but a lot of programs are also used to edit illustrations, design processors for designing and formatting documents and designing programs for visual aids.
While technical writing got recognized as a profession in the twentieth century, the first example of a technical document dates back to the time of Aristotle. The first published technical document in English is considered to be Geoffrey Chaucer’s Treatise on Astrolabe. The Industrial Revolution necessitated the need for technical writing.
While the earlier inventions were handed down from generation to generation, the invention of new machines and their complexity meant that their design needed to be documented for common use. This meant that the individuals who could document such details became more in demand.
The demand for technical writers grew exponentially in the twentieth century and technical writing became recognized as a profession. After the second world war, technological advancement meant that the standard of living improved. To document the processes of the new inventions technical writers were much sought after.
The invention of the computer and later the transistor (which made the computers cheaper and more accessible) and its wide usage in universities and businesses meant that the documentation of such devices also grew in importance. The later evolution meant that computers were now a household device.
With the digital revolution in recent years, the tools at the disposal of the technical writers have increased manifold. From word processors, graphics, hypertext to page layout softwares, the technical writers need to be proficient in technology.
A good course in technical writing equips the technical writers with the necessary arsenal to succeed in their field. A study by the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics the demand for technical writers is projected to grow at 10% from 2014 to 2024.
2) Practising before taking the plunge in the job market – Before taking a plunge in the job market or freelancing, it is highly desirable to be at a minimum level. The heart of any form of writing is the ability to communicate in a crisp manner. Significant improvements can be made to the writing skill by practicing.
Projects of friends and well-wishers can be taken up and completed with the seriousness of a paid project. Once the hard work is done and one starts getting a hang of the things, the work can be published. One can get a good following by writing tutorials on the preferred industry. This is a good way of catching attention. Since error-free communication is one of the cornerstones of technical writing it is highly recommended to get initiated in the field in a gradual manner. The adage Practice makes a man perfect never goes out of fashion.
What is the technical writing process that needs to be known so that one can practice?
More time needs to be devoted to project planning and review than the execution itself. The smart writers always plan out their work and devote time to prepare an outline of how to proceed. Following are the steps in the technical writing process:
a) Planning and Preparation – When the client requests a document, he specifies the document type, the subject matter, the audience, the scope, etc. However, a dialogue with the client is essential to know what exactly is desired as sometimes all these might not be explicitly stated. The clients sometimes want to know the writer’s input as well. To keep the project free from future disputes the clarity about the project is quintessential. Questions pertinent to the topic should be put to the management freely.
b) Audience analysis – This is the most important part of document preparation. Certain questions need to be answered regarding who the audience is, what is their need, when will they be reading, why, and how will they be reading. The end-user analysis will also determine the language to be used.
If the audience is aware of the terminologies or is completely ignorant or falls somewhere in between determines the language to be used. Whether the proposal is for a business plan or a technical manual, the end-user has to be kept in mind. In the case of user manuals, the audience might be completely ignorant and not so tech-savvy so the document should be prepared in a manner, which even a layman can easily decipher.
The user-friendliness of the document will decide its effectiveness. The document should have more ease of reading than showy qualities. To know the solution a good technical writer should know the questions that are likely to be asked. Keeping the questions in mind a solution in as simple words as possible should be framed so that it is intelligible to the layman.
c) Feedback of the user – Once the needs have been understood and the questions decided the actual user feedback needs to be taken into account. This is a very important source of content preparation. The idea is to incorporate the difficulties being faced and their solution, the document preparation should not be an advertisement of the brilliance of the writer but the purpose it serves.
d) Conceptualizing the document – After all the understanding is done, the next step is to conceptualize the document. Technical writing involves complex information, but not all of it is required and therefore the document should be planned in a manner, which enables the user to clearly understand and use it effectively. A mind map can be used to develop various processes.
e) Expert opinion – It is always advisable to consult experts who might be friends, colleagues, or authorities on the subject. A discussion with an authority on the subject matter helps sort out any lacunae in the document.
f) Finality on the document type – The document type can be varied and therefore it is always advisable to ask for it explicitly, although many times it is quite obvious. There can be many document type some of which are :
1) Technical Proposals – These relate to a new project, its purpose, processes,
and the budget. Proposals may be cost-free. The outline of the project is carved out in the proposal. Sometimes proposals may suggest changes which are cost-free.
2) Specifications – These relate to the detailed description of the product including structure, design, packaging, or process, and explained in a way that allows the construction or reconstruction of the same.
3) Technical Manuals – The users of these kinds of documents are either the user or the developer. A manual for operating a washing machine is an example. The details included are how to operate the product or the process.
4) Emails – The primary use of this form of communication is to inform or sometimes instruct. The e-mails are generally used for official communication.
5) Technical Reports – These are prepared in detail and explain the process, impact of the process, external environment, and how it affects the process, etc. In short, it is informs, recommends, instructs, and analyses.
Some do’s of drafting which is useful to practice
· Single words should be used and a group of words should be reduced.
· Simple verbs are to be used for a group of words
· Shorter sentences should be used
· There should not be unnecessary repetition
· Ideas should be expressed in as few words as possible.
· Active voice is preferred over passive voice.
· The meaning of the words being written should be clear.
· The writer should put himself in place of the reader and satisfy himself about the sense, content, and the interpretation it carries.
3) Building a portfolio – In order to display the writing skills to prospective employers, there should be a body of work to display. It is therefore recommended to build a portfolio where all small and big work should be stored. It is recommended to take small projects at a nominal or no compensation and work on it with seriousness because it will showcase the potential one possesses. Most of the technical writers are stuck in the mode of when to start. It so happens that the basic fundamental is to just start writing. Things start falling into place gradually.
The compensation aspect has to be overlooked initially. The body of work that has to be kept in the portfolio should showcase or at least give a fair indication of the potential that the writer possesses. Restricting oneself to only one field restricts the job options too. The dynamism of the writer is reflected in how diverse topics he has written upon.
It is best advised to research and explore topics as diverse as possible. The projects of friends, acquaintances, well-wishers, or offering less compensation should be immediately lapped up and a decent portfolio constructed.
It not only offers good practice but also helps in job prospects. While applying for jobs these portfolios are quite helpful. In a portfolio besides paying attention to the text if the visual effects and text formatting have also been taken care of, it greatly enhances the job prospects. The employers, too, love all-rounders.
4) Developing Industry knowledge – It is desirable to stay in touch with the latest research and development and the latest trends to supplement industry knowledge. The technical field is a dynamic one and a technical writer has to be aware of the latest that the industry has to offer. It is good to stay in touch with the latest developments in the medical world, new technological developments, and new R&D being carried out.
A technical writer needs to be aware of the field he is into and generally people ignorant on the subject are not preferred for technical writing. It is also good to become part of some professional association to make people aware of one’s presence. Being a part of a professional network sometimes also leads to landing new projects, besides offering networking benefits like journals and articles.
To develop niche knowledge it is recommended to go through the tone, style, and content common to documents in the chosen field. It is then good to practice the same with suitable modifications to develop a distinct style. Since a technical writer is also supposed to know the various tools to aid in presentation, it would be a great asset for him if he could develop web designing skills. Besides, page layout and document designing being an integral part of technical writing, it is good if the technical writer has adequate knowledge of such stuff.
Technical writers spend lots of time in making their documents readable as it contains lots of data. The visual media effect using videos and charts and infographics, they can add a new dimension to their skill. To add to their field of expertise such additions can sharpen the skills of the technical writers.
Since many technical writings are published on the web and online platforms, it would greatly help if a web designing course and certification is acquired. A review of learning materials and resources also helps in gaining experience in writing and creating new followers. Short videos on tutorials can also be floated on the internet creating followers and hence getting noticed. Though coding is not a compulsion familiarizing oneself with coding nuances and applications helps especially for languages Java, HTML.
5) Building the right resume and Uploading on websites – The search for a career in the technical writing industry begins with posting and uploading resumes, though there are other sources too. Building the right resume requires a systematic approach. Since the resume will be the first exposure to writing skills, great care has to be taken to see that it is error-free. The grammar, spellings, formatting, consistency should all be doubly checked before any resume is floated. Some of the features of a good resume are:
· It should be free of all grammatical errors.
· It should be customized for the job applied for.
· It should mention the relevant skills without exaggerating.
· It should not be overcrowded.
The resume should be uploaded on sites that cater to technical writing. Other professional networks should also be explored. Greater participation in seminars, workshops, and being an active member of social media groups also helps in getting noticed. Writing blogs, posting videos also helps.
There are a lot of job sites like internshala.com, writerbolg.com, iwriter.com, upwork.com, where the resume can be uploaded to get project work. Besides, there are a lot of platforms like medium.com where the articles and blogs can be published to catch attention. Quora is another platform, which offers new writers an excellent platform. All such platforms should be utilized.
A brief history of the evolution of the profession of technical writing is good to know. Technical Writing as a profession was officially recognized only after World War 11. It, though dates back to the time of Aristotle.
After the invention of the mechanical press and the Renaissance, as well as the inventions made, necessitated the documentation of the findings. Scientists like Newton made path-breaking findings in physics. All such documentation would certainly qualify as technical writings.
The onset of the Industrial Revolution meant that the technical writers were more in demand. New machines were invented and unlike previous findings which were handed down from generation to generation, these required technical writers. The reason was that these machines were more complex and required documentation.
The World Wars led to a general advancement in the field of military hardware and medicinal science. Also aerospace technology tooka quantum jump. All these needed to be chronicled. It, therefore required technical writers of good quality. In fact, it was during World War 11 that the official profession of technical writers was recognized.
The invention of the computer and later the transistor brought about a revolution in the fields of science and communication. The technical writers role was not only recognized, the profession became a hot favourite among the job-seekers. The invention of the transistor drastically reduced the price of the computers and they started being used in small businesses and educational institutes. This, too, phenomenally increaded the demand of the technical writers.. The first documentation on the BINAC computers was produced in 1949. It was an instruction manual and its author was Joseph Chapline.
The advancements made in computer science have led to a boom in digital communication and modern-day technical writers need to be equipped with much such stuff like graphics, page design, word processors, hypertext, editing to be successful in their field. No wonder technical writing courses are so much in demand. They make a technical writer battle-ready.
No. It is not compulsory to get a certification but a good course helps in career advancement and sharpening of skills.
Following are the steps:
1. Practicing before taking the plunge.
2. Building a portfolio of the work.
3. Developing industry knowledge.
4. Building resume
5. Uploading resume on job sites
According to research technical writing as a profession is expected to grow at 7% from 2019 to 2029, more than the average growth of any other profession.