Perspicacious Priyadarshi

Thoughts, Observations, Interpretations

Archive for Technical Writing

Looking back…

In 2002, when a journalist with India’s primier IT weekly-Express Computers, contacted me for a story on Technical Writing, I had already been retrenched twice.  When I began my tryst with the IT industry as a Journalist, I had absolutely no knowledge of Technical Writing. I wrote cover stories, interviewed prominent IT personalities, reviewed IT books, and covered IT events. However, just one year later I joined a CMM Level5 IT services company as a content writer and got an opportunity to write for project documentation. Fortunately, I have been involved in all the activities in the IT industry that require writing and editing.  Technical content writing, web content writing, end-user documentation, marketing communication collaterals, presales and bid documentation, knowledge management, etc.  In between 2000-2002, I lost two jobs. Thanks to the downslide of the IT industry. Finally, I managed to get a stable job with a decent designation and salary at HCL – the Indian IT major. When this story was published I was comfortably positioned at HCL and had documented for a couple of international projects. Here’s what Express Computer had published on Technical Writing as a Career Option.

Technical Writing as a Viable Career Option

-Punita Jsrotia 

Ever thought about what goes into creating the user manuals or instruction brochures of your music system, mobile phones or even the car maintenance guides? Most of us just manage to glance through the item, leave alone going into the technical details.

Since such information is meant for the layman, simplifying the jargons associated with any particular product or process is the key function of technical writers. A bridge between technology and its users, technical writing is also the ‘science’ of designing, validating, and packaging the information created to meet a certain objective. The irony of the situation is that in spite of playing such a crucial role, not much work has been done to assess the number of technical writers in the country. The IT industry, which absorbs a major chunk of technical writers has also shied away from giving due credit to this work.

In today’s customer-centric business model , the very process of acquiring and losing deals depends on the effectiveness of the technical writers. According to Priyadarshi Tripathi, consultant, HCL Infosystems, “Any organisation that is conscious about the information/messages catering to its customers, employees or business partners employs technical writers who are specialists. ” Pradeep Henry of Cognizant Technology Solutions adds, “ For a software services organisation, its user manuals and technical write-ups act as its public face and reflects its level of professionalism.”

Technical writing as a niche profession

At a rough estimate, there should be at least one technical writer, for 30 programmers. But in spite of their growing need, not much has been done to popularise this profession. Although, technical communication has been in existence for a long time, its emergence as a niche profession is only a recent development. According to the figures furnished by the Society for Technical Communication (STC) there are roughly 1200/1500 technical writers in India, while US has over a lakh of technical communicators. Many experts cite the lack of awareness as a key reason (both among the corporates and the individuals) to make it a potential career prospect. Technical writing as a field has various segments, like documentation specialist, instructional designer, proposal writer, resume writer, copywriter, marcom specialist, or even a technology journalist. But not many people are willing to make it a full-fledged profession.

According to Tripathi, in spite of having an abundance of talent, the problem is the lack of a proper organised system or infrastructure to groom them into potential writers. “Unlike the West, here the emphasis is on ‘on-the-job training’. We hardly have any institution offering certified courses on this subject. And this hampers the growth of the profession,” he says. Anissha Aggarwal, assistant manager-Technical Communication, TCS (Delhi), agrees. According to her, the lack of certified courses increase the initial training period of the individual considerably. The veterans in this field generally have a background in English literature with a technical background, because of the popularity of on-the-job training, technically qualified people are preferred over people from other fields.

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But that was then. Five years later, the Technical Writing professions in India has grown leaps and bounds. Every jobsite in India has hundreds of postings for technical writers. Organizations, not just IT companies, but also those in to Banking, Retail, and other areas are employing Technical Writers.  Definitely things are upwardly mobile.  


Proposal Writer’s Problems

As a writer/editor in a presales team, you certainly have the responsibility of publishing the right kind of persuasive message and ensure the “winnability” of a proposal. Proposals vary in size, number of pages, complexity, technicality, business domains, pricing, type of customer, etc. Sometime the only thing that you require to do is to replace the name of the customer from an old proposal and publish it for a prospect. However, this is not the case always. Many times, you are required to work on proposals that are unique. Here are the challenges that a writer/ editor face while working for a proposal:

  • Tsunami of information from stakeholders. This leads to information anarchy. As a thoughtful communicator, you need to rework and rearrange the information so that it serves the requirements of the prospect.
  • Lack of processes. Who send what to whom and when. These are the eternal questions asked by the presales team members from beginning to end of a proposal development lifecycle. Don the role of an information manager and design a feasible and scalable information process flow. This will help you control the problems to a certain extent.
  • Just correct the English. That’s what I have been asked to do at the penultimate hour many a times. I would suggest a technical writer to take complete control on the content quality in a proposal. Apart from grammar, ensure that the information is persuasive and helps you win the bid. You also have to work on the logical flow, usability and visual appeal of the proposal.
  • Not much time left. Half a day for reviewing and editing a proposal prepared by ten people. How can somebody achieve this feat? I would suggest you to use the smart strategy of content reusability. Prepare generic sections like details about your company and customer, quality, project management, intellectual property issues, infrastructure, case studies, resumes, etc, well in advance, adopting a particular standard, style and template. Ask the presales team to use the information. The only thing that should be focused thereafter is customer specific information like the parts of executive summary, solution details, pricing, etc.
  • Formatting and reformatting. Your word template goes on a toss when it is handled by people who are not much bothered about the formatting sensibilities. A majority of your time goes for reformatting the proposal. Train people on how to use templates effectively. Propose a well defined template. If possible use a good publishing tool that uses single sourcing concepts.
  • Change management. When a team works on a proposal, this is a common situation. Too many versions of information, last minute reviews, rewritten information, etc. Change request coming in mails, in multiple formats, in chat messages, and even by telephone. All these demand great attention. You need to insert the latest and correct information in the latest version of proposal. Suggest a new-age content management system or at least a file naming convention to have some amount of control.

(Unedited, scribbled, list not in order of priority)