Friday, March 09, 2007

The Role of a Technical Writer in an IT company

When I joined my first organization as a technical writer, I was the only technical writer in the company. Though, my designation was a technical writer, I was performing all the tasks except for technical writing, which included developing marketing proposals, brochures, sales presentations, multimedia applications such as Computer-Based Tutorials (CBT), and so on. But as I was beginning my career, I didn’t mind doing those tasks. Today after gaining some experience (six years to be precise) in technical writing and looking back at those years, I try to visualize my career path if I hadn’t been a technical writer. What I could have been, a programmer, a DBA, or a Quality Analyst? There could have been more options; I don’t want to even think of. I thank my heavens for getting an opportunity to work as a technical writer. You must be wondering, why? Why is it that I am happy to be a technical writer? How does this job excite me? Why am I interested only in technical writing and not development, testing, or any other career path? The only reason being that the technical writers act as an interface between the developers and end users. These users include consumers as well as scientists, engineers, programmers themselves, and production managers. As a matter of fact, I am doing a community service by acting as a bridge between the users and the product. My role as a technical writer involves translating the typical information about the product into a language that is easily understood by any user.

Most companies tend to underestimate the role of a technical writer, and try to demoralize them by not giving them enough resources. However, it all depends upon the technical writers as to how they manage those situations. In addition to this, many companies don’t know the importance of technical writing, and they even try to cut the costs of developing documentation. This is because of lack of awareness among the companies about the importance of involving a technical writer in the documentation. Today many companies are slowly beginning to understand the role of technical writer but there is a lot of work to be done. As there goes a saying, “Miles to go before we sleep…”, and thanks to STC-India (Society of Technical Communication) for its wonderful work on generating awareness about this field.

The role of technical writers include more than just writing any documents, and with the widespread use of desktop publishing, a technical writer may be involved in the whole publication process including graphics, layout, and document design. As a technical writer, I have been a part of developing documentation such as training materials, user manuals, help systems, and multimedia presentations. In addition, it also involves developing product instructions, reference and maintenance manuals, articles, project proposals, technical reports, catalogs, and brochures. All this and much more involve a technical writer’s hand.

A technical writer can have wide variety of job-titles such as Medical Writer, Communications Specialist, Policy and Procedure Writer, Proposal Writer, Publications Specialist, Science Writer, Documentation Specialist, Health Writer, Information Developer, or a Technical Editor. As a technical writer, I carry out the following tasks while developing the documentation:
  • Analyze the needs of the target audience
  • Study the data and conduct interviews with the subject matter experts to understand the product or procedure
  • Arrange illustrations, charts, and photographs to be included in documentation
  • Edit, standardize, or revise material prepared by other writers or personnel
  • Assist in laying out material for publication
  • Prepare rough drafts of the publication for review with the project staff and/or customers
  • Create and edit web pages for the Internet and corporate intranets and extranets

Now, the question comes in that what are the skills required for me as a technical writer. There are various skills, and some of these include:

  • Ability to communicate effectively with various people while writing the documentation.
  • Ability to listen effectively to what other people are saying and ability to ask appropriate questions.
  • Ability to gather information and identifying the essential information.
  • Ability to find ways to structure or classify multiple pieces of information, and then reorganizing the information to obtain a better approach to problems or tasks.
  • Ability to quickly grasp any new technology or concept.
  • And, last but not the least, which is the most important skill for technical writers is the English Grammar skills. A technical writer should have knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.

Now, you must find the following piece of information amazing as I am going to talk about willingness to travel, and more so, travel abroad as it is done by most of our counterparts who are working as developers or QA or so on. Moreover, you must be sad to know that technical writer is a usually a job that is done at your own workplace, and more so after this job has been outsourced by most companies in USA to India. However, you may be required to travel to various locations during the planning and production of technical publications. This is done in order to discuss the project details. Often, technical writers may work alone or together under the supervision of a publications chief or editor, a product or procedure specialist, or a marketing manager.

Technical writing has become increasingly popular, and a reputed occupation in various sectors of the industry. More and more people are willing to opt for this field as this field doesn’t only pay you well but it also involves you to learn new and upcoming technologies. The demand for the technical writers is growing and is expected to grow more because of the need to communicate new scientific and technical information to the end-users. Due to this ever increasing demand, the companies have started to show interest in providing education on technical writing to the students. There are few companies who offer courses on technical writing that allow the students to not only obtain the certificate in technical writing but also gain hands-on experience in this field. The day is not far when there will also be degree courses in technical writing. This is a dream which I feel will come true. I am waiting for the day to come.

Are you also waiting?

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