Commonly Asked Technical Writing Related Questions

Is technical writing different from creative writing?

Technical writing is definitely different from creative writing. It is not for any reader—it is directed to a specific audience who reads to understand a product. So, the writing should be clear, concise, accurate, and easy to understand.

Writers like Shoba De, Chetan Bhagat, Jeffery archer, and Robin Cook write to satisfy their creative urge. Technical writers have to follow rules and guidelines regarding what to write and what not to write.

Technical writing is format driven. Companies and technical journals often have their own way of organizing and laying out the content of technical documents. The writers have to follow the organization specific format and style. In short, we can say that the characteristics that set technical writing apart from other types of writing include audience, language, purpose, format, writing style, and the use of visuals.

Is it necessary for the technical writers to have technical background?

NO! It is not necessary unless the subject you are going to write about is highly technical in nature and requires a long learning curve even to understand the basic concepts. In such cases, it is advantageous for you to have technical background, but not in the same sense as the engineers, the programmers, the developers, or the support staff.

Apart from taking care of the format, language, and style, technical writers should also understand the technology, theory, and applications of the projects they are assigned to document. To do that, writers either need some technical expertise or have the ability to understand the information/technology.

The idea is to be able to understand the function, feature, and/or product well enough to write about them, but at the same time be able to view them from the standpoint of an ignorant user who doesn’t know the product well. A good technical writer should be able to ask the questions that a user might have and write the manual accordingly.

Programmers, developers, engineers and/or project managers are often too close to the subject and the product they develop that they don’t think the obvious! Hence being able to look at a function, a feature, a product from the standpoint of an user can also be an asset.

Is good writing skill the only qualification needed for a technical writer?

No! Good writing skill is a definite prerequisite. But again, there are many types of writers. Some are verbose and some others may use flowery and creative language. Such writers are definitely not well-suited for technical writing. But, if they learn to write in a restricted manner, they make excellent technical writers.

As a technical writer, you must be a clear thinker, well-organized, follow styles and formats, and adapt to restrictive writing. You should also be a quick learner, good researcher, and extremely good at multitasking. The list of skills is endless.

Is there a need to have formal training in English?

No! I am not aware how the knowledge of the works of Shakespeare, Keats, and/or Frost can help you with technical writing. Jokes apart, it is important that you have sound knowledge of the language. Formal training in English is definitely not a prerequisite, but it is an advantage in some cases. In India, unlike other areas (web development, web designing, programming, graphics designing, animation, quality assurance), technical writing does not have a widely recognized certification.

The educational qualification required, is also inconsistent and wholly depends on the requirement of the job and the organization. Hence, it is important for the technical writers to have a right balance of the language skills and understanding of the technical concepts.

Which is more important—writing skills or subject/domain knowledge?

What is more important—your right leg or your left leg? Both are equally important. You may be little more comfortable using one over the other. The same stand is applicable to writing skills and subject/domain knowledge.

The written skills gets you the job, where as you can learn the subject on the job. But unless and until you know the subject you have to write about, you can’t do a good job. Apart from the other skills (grammar, writing, critical thinking, etc.) domain knowledge is also important for succeeding as a technical writer.

Good audience analysis includes knowing about your users and their requirements. It includes learning about the domain you work in, be it engineering, finance, medicine, law, gardening, database maintenance, or rocket science.

Can technical writers do the job of an editor?

Writers with eye for detail and good editing and organizational skills can double up as editors. In large and well established documentation groups, editing is de nitely an editors job. Not all technical writers can do justice to the job of an editor. The ability of being an editor depends wholly on the editorial skills of the writers, not on the years of experience they command.

Will previous experience in another field be taken into account when changing jobs to technical writing?

A commonly asked question is I have n years experience in xyz field. Why do I have to join as a trainee or as a junior writer? Simple!

It is because you will be learning the basics of the job just as the others. The same amount of time and effort will have to be dedicated to you for training (the concepts, writing styles, procedures, tools, etc.). This is even more evident if the work experience you have is in no way related to technical writing.

Any previous experience will be valid in terms of the soft skills (team spirit, communication, leadership qualities, attitude towards work, etc.) which will help you to get faster promotions if you are a good technical writer. Use the non-related work experience for climbing up the professional ladder, not to be close to the top of the ladder when you enter the profession.

In a senior position, you are expected to make important decisions about the project, which can make or break a project. Relevant experience helps in making the right decision at critical stages of the project. Making wrong decisions, when you consciously think that you are right may cause a critical situation!

If you strongly feel that the prior experience is of extreme importance to you, you should probably continue in the same field. If you have decided to change careers and move on from your present field to become a technical writer, then let go of the ghost of the “previous experience” and think of yourself as a technical writer. This will help you move forward with a clarity of thought.

Is age a barrier?

It is and it is not! When hiring experienced writers, age is definitely not considered. When hiring someone without previous technical writing experience, age sometimes becomes a selection criteria. One of the reason is because, after other experience, the expectations of the candidate is much more than a fresher who is relatively younger and inexperienced.

Most of the times, organizations are ready to take in people with no related experience in junior positions offering salary relative to their relevant experience and skills. Those seeking a job may not be able to accept the fact that after having years of work experience, they are considered to be on the same level as the trainees.

In such a situation, ask yourself if you possess the skills required for this job? Do you have the relevant experience? Why should the organization pay you for the skills and the experience you don’t possess? This will give you an answer why you are recruited at an entry level.

You need to be flexible and mature in terms of understanding and accepting your limitations. If you are comfortable working with youngsters, in a junior position, for a lesser salary (probably), and if you are confident of using the skills of your prior working experience(s) to your advantage, age doesn’t really matter.

On a personal perspective, age limit is more of a mental state than physical. If you are eager to learn and grow in the team starting from the basics, age is not a constraint. For that matter, age is not a barrier in any field if you have the right attitude and if you are mentally and physically fit for the job/work.

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3 Responses

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