Importance of Punctuation

Punctuation is the system of symbols used to separate written sentences and parts of sentences and to make their meaning clear. Each symbol is called a punctuation mark. Punctuation marks are tools used to structure and organize our words and to give sentences meaning and rhythm. The word punctuation is derived from the Latin word punctum and refers to the use of putting in points or stops in writing, in order to increase readability.

There are a few punctuation marks that we use regularly, each having a separate usage.


As an analogy, think of the traffic signs that govern the rules of the road. When you see a green light, you proceed very confidently. When you see a red light, you bring your vehicle to a stop, and when you see a yellow light, you proceed with a little caution. These traffic rules help in the proper flow of traffic, avoids confusion, and makes driving safe and efficient.

Just as the traffic signals are vital for the proper flow of traffic, punctuation is used to fine-tune the traffic of words and sentences. Punctuation marks are the traffic signals of language. They tell us to slow down, pause, and/or stop.

Punctuation aids in describing the emotion behind every sentence and changes the tone of the said sentence if add it at the wrong place. Punctuating a sentence is really important, but punctuating properly is even more important. Punctuation marks in the English language can radically change the meaning of a sentence. Putting it in a wrong place or omitting it completely can lead to misinterpretation. In-spite of wonderful ideas and cleverly phrased sentences, poor and inaccurate punctuation will ruin the best of writing.

Punctuation marks are placed in the text to make meaning and make reading easier. Just as the traffic signals are common internationally, the writers from all over the globe have agreed that certain marks will signify specific things in written communication. Though there are slight differences in the punctuation rules (British and American), in general, they are universally standardized.

The various punctuation marks together to perform four main functions:



The rules of punctuation are created and maintained to help make writing more effective. The rules are not static—they have changed over the years and will continue to change. What once might have been considered improper, may now be considered correct, and the vice versa. Punctuation marks help readers to understand what the writer is trying to say.  Without proper punctuation, serious sentences become jokes, misunderstandings flourish, and confusion reigns.

You all must have heard of the story of the English professor who wrote the following words on the blackboard and directed the students to punctuate it correctly:

                               Woman without her man is nothing

The boys wrote: Woman, without her man, is nothing.

The girls wrote: Woman! Without her, man is nothing.

Both these statements are grammatically correct but have an entirely different meaning.

Here is another story. A woman (Jane) writes a letter her fiancé telling him how much she loves him and what she feels for him.


Now, let’s see what happens to the same letter if there were no punctuation mistakes and/or it was punctuated in an entirely different manner?


We have just saved a heart from being broken, didn’t we? All thanks to correct punctuation.

Knowing how and when to use basic punctuation marks allows you to write clearly. If you use them well your sentences will be user-friendly.

When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly—with body language. Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow. In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.” ~Russell Baker

Want to Become a Technical Writer? Read This First.

One of the reasons for becoming a technical writer is because you like writing and, of course, you are good at it. You understand technology and want to combine both technology and writing. Unfortunately, many people come into this field, not because they are interested in technology or in writing, but because:

  • They hear it pays reasonably well.
  • They have heard about the demand for this special breed of people.
  • They are ready to take up any job. When they don’t get their dream job, they just want to settle in for any job for the time being.
  • They probably want to work for a year or two before going for higher studies.
  • Some ladies want to take up a job after a break and think this to be a good option.

Unfortunately, these are not the reasons to become a technical writer. First and foremost try to identify if this is the right profession for you. Money is important, but in this field, interest in the job profile and writing abilities are extremely crucial. This can make or break your career. Darwin’s Theory of the survival of the fittest applies to this scenario as well. Among all the others, only the good writers, with a genuine interest in the field will survive and progress further. The others will get stagnated, bored, and will be disillusioned by their choice! 

Having said this, I would also like to add that not many of the existing writers have come into this profession out of choice. I personally know some writers who wanted to make a career in software development, design, or testing. They did not get an appropriate opportunity and hence, they joined my team as technical writers, have discovered what it is, and have decided that they are content and happy with this profession. But this is a very rare situation and depends on the personal attitude and the basic interest (like reading and writing) of the person. So before you make a rushed decision, sit back and think.

A good technical writer plays a significant and important role in the organization just as a good developer does. Just as an engineer is hired to design graphics, create/develop the product, perform quality assurance, etc., you are hired to create documentation. So you have a specific duty to perform. Whether you believe it or not, agree or not, technical writing is a rewarding career.

My sincere advice is as follows:

  • Technical writing will NOT satisfy your creative carving. It requires you to write to in a restricted manner. You also have to follow styles and formats. It will not satisfy your creative appetite.
  • Do not be lured by the money. There are only a handful of writers who see this as a dream job! The rest see it as an optional job that pays well enough when they are not able to get their dreams jobs. But do not opt for technical writing just for this reason because when reality sinks in, you will become disillusioned.
  • Do not focus only on documentation tools. Many wanna-be writers believe that knowing the publishing tools will get them a job. Instead, focus on:
    • Language, writing, and presentation of information.
    • Subject and technologies (for example, electronics, if you want to document electronics consumer items or finance/commerce if you want to document banking software).
  • Read, read, and read. Try to read about various aspects of technical writing and understand the profile well. Apart from this, also take up reading as a hobby to improve your language. Learn to read for pleasure.
  • Practice. Practice writing in a restricted manner, using the generic rules and guidelines. Refer to books and the style guides (for instance, Microsoft Manual of Style). The more you practice, the more perfect you become.
  • Come out of the comfort of the cocoon. If you are basically a loner, try to become communicative and expressive with your thoughts and ideas. Strange as it may sound, this will help you a lot in your career as technical writing/communication is about communicating. You just can’t avoid it!

Here is a paragraph of the well-known poem “The Road Not Taken”, by Robert Frost.

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

More than two decades back, I chose the lesser known career options of that time and it has definitely made all the difference!

When Do People Use Documentation?

Remember the time you have got a new household electronics item (a microwave, an OTG, food processor, an electric cooker) or other gadgets like camera, ipod, smartphone, etc.  You usually spend some time with the product and its user manual trying to figure out how “it” works. Then you go back to it when you need to figure out how a certain feature functions or works.

The same applies to software manuals as well. Hence, we can say that manuals are usually used as reference material to understand a concept or product or to overcome the problem faced while using the product.

The users do not read the documentation before using the product. Nor do they read it in sequence, from start till the end. They use documentation as they use the product, especially when they:

  • Want to satisfy their knowledge.
  • Run into a problem when using the product.
  • Want to overcome the problem and try for a workaround.
  • Require information regarding a function/command to proceed with a given task.
  • Want to understand the theory behind the working of a certain functionality.
  •  Want to complete the task they are performing.

The users outside the organization use documentation for making decisions. Those in the organization use the documents to track and maintain their own operation.

A Manuals Lament

– by Bob Moran 

I am a lonely manual. I sit upon the shelf.
I cannot help the user who will not help himself.

Sometimes I hear him dialing the help desk on the line,
and I want to cry out, Wait, the answers on page nine!

I try and try to tell them how friendly I can be,
but my voice is all but muffled by the plastic over me.

There are others up here with me clothed in this cellophane.
Our authors toiled long hours I wish it weren’t in vain.

Deep within our pages lies knowledge yet untapped.
You know that we could help you, if we weren’t so tightly wrapped.

Oh how I’d love to feel my binding against the desk,
my pages all uncovered, the plastic laid to rest.

The knowledge all exposed to the gaze of raptured
whose hungry search for knowledge cannot be disguised.

I’d work with them in unison to get the project done,
and then in quiet confidence, we start another one.

Oh, if only you’d expose my pages to your glance.
I’d give you so much knowledge if you’d just give me a chance.

What is Technical Writing?

When was the last time you curled up in bed, with coffee in one hand and a really good user-manual in another, just for the sheer joy of reading it? Never I guess. People read reference manuals to understand concepts, to solve problems, and use products productively, not for leisure reading. They are interested in information that accompanies a product and that describes concepts (science, finance, trade, medicine, etc.).

“Technical writing conveys specific information about a technical subject to a specific audience for a specific purpose.” —Michael Markel

Expanding this, we can say that technical writing is the form of writing which imparts information about a technology/product/service by written and/or visual medium to users of varying levels of knowledge (or knowledge requirement) so that they clearly understand the technology/product/service. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) defines technical communication as the process of gathering information from experts and presenting it to an audience in a clear and easily understandable form.

Technical writing can be defined in different ways:

  • Technical writing is explaining how to use a technology.

It is about writing how products work and how the users have to use them. It informs, explains, and instructs a specific set of the audience so that they gain the knowledge and are able to perform their job functions more effectively. The subject matter can range from promotional material on a new technology to instructions on using a program. The writing can be about a software package, medical instruments, finance software, consumer products, or electrical household products (toaster, mixer, or cooker).

  • Technical writing is the process of shaping the information.

Whenever you communicate, you convey information. How you shape this information is the key to technical writing. The document should be designed and presented in a format and manner that best suits the needs of the readers. You should write in a structured manner so that information clearly and easily expresses the complicated information. Hence, format, layout, and language are the important components of writing as they make the documents simple and usable.

  • Technical writing deals with theories, systems, designs, and methods.

The purpose of technical writing is to allow the users to make the appropriate decision and to perform the relevant task. Hence, it focuses on the subject (technology) methodologies, and the reader (the user). This is probably one of the reasons why technical writing is more popular in the areas of science and technology.

  • Technical writing is similar to investigative writing.

For writing technical documentation, you need to understand the product, identify the audience, slowly uncover the mysteries associated with the product and technology, and then write accordingly.

“When I teach technical writing, I always start off the first class by defining what technical writers do. My take on it: I get to be Arthur Conan Doyle for a living. I spend half my time as Sherlock Holmes, turning over rocks, uncovering clues, from putting together a big complicated puzzle from randomly gathered bits of information. Then I spend the other half of my time as Dr.Watson, writing it down in such a manner that it enlightens my audience.” —John Garison

  • Technical writing is NOT a job just for the language experts.

Very often, people judge the profession by its name. Hence the writer part of the term technical writer can be misleading. Many people assume that the profession is directly related to journalism, literature, and writing. I still remember the queries I used to face during my early days in this eld.

People were more concerned than I was regarding my choice of careerYou are an engineer. What are you doing as a technical writer?

As the name suggests, technical writing is a combination of technology and writing. It is often difficult to decide which factor is more important of the two. There can be a debate on technical versus writing, to decide what is more important. Are language and writing skills important? Is technical competence more important? Neither!

A healthy combination of both writing talent and technical aptitude is essential to make a good and successful technical writer. The weightage of the requirement (between the two) depends on the job profile, the organization you are working for, the product you are writing about, and the type of document you are writing. There are some instances, wherein you need to possess subject knowledge because of the subject matter you write about. So it is important to understand the value of (and not underestimate) both parts of the job title Technical Writer.

  • It is the field of writing which is audience specific.

Technical information is compiled in a format such that different types of readers can use it. Some of them may be familiar with the subject while others may have no knowledge about it. Hence, the most important element of effective technical writing is knowing your audience and meeting their needs and expectations.


    • Writing for engineers is different from writing for university students.
    • Writing for an internal newsletter is different from writing newsletters for business purpose.
    • Writing to explain (user’s guide) is absolutely different from writing to persuade to make a decision (proposals).

We can summarize these definitions and say that good technical writing has to:

  • Fulfill all the requirements of the users.
  • Confirm to the styles and format.
  • Be technically and grammatically correct.
  • Be simple, concise, and easy to understand.
  • Be free of errors and omissions.
  • Be useful and user-friendly in terms of information, language, and format.

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 definitely 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, the 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.

Is Technical Writing a Good Career in India

Most frequently, people opt for technical writing and after a year or two, they express the desire to make a transition into quality assurance or development because they feel that they will be paid better or that they have better prospects in those fields. The youngsters today probably don’t realize that they should choose a profession that they enjoy doing and which gives them satisfaction in terms of work, roles, and responsibilities.

Unfortunately, most of them focus on the remuneration and not at their own interests, flaws, or drawbacks. They don’t realize that if they overcome their drawbacks and change their attitude, they can progress well in any chosen field.

Example: A dog held a juicy bone in his jaws as he crossed a bridge over a brook. When he looked down into the water he saw another dog below with a bigger, juicier bone. He jumped into the brook to snatch the bigger bone, letting go his own bone. He quickly learned of course that the bigger bone was just a reflection, and so he ended up with nothing.

Remember, having a job in hand that you enjoy doing is better than any other dream job! You probably feel that some other job is better than this… (it may be), but who knows?

The most frequently asked question is, “Is technical writing as good a career in India as anywhere else?” The only answer to this question is yes. Should we have second thoughts about our own abilities? It is high time we erase such thoughts away from our minds and accept the fact that technical writing in India is as good as anywhere else if not better. If it were not so, it would not have been a booming field. The technical writers in India have been well accepted irrespective of the fact that more than 90% of the writers learn the work on the job, without any prior education in the field.

Those in this field for more than a decade do not have formal training in technical writing. You should be proud of yourself because you are a self-starter. Most of you have built careers in technical writing on your own, the more fortunate ones were trained for the job by the organization. Each one of you probably came from different walks of life (journalists, teachers, engineers, and computer professionals) but the unified dream of being a technical writer has brought us all this far.

Technical writing is very much here to stay. It has been growing slowly, but steadily and firmly since the last decade. As the awareness of having good documentation is increasing, the profession is also growing by leaps and bounds. We are very competent and can do the job well. We should have the interest the right attitude and fine-tune our skills. Having said this, I also like to add that we still have a long way to go in terms of getting the respect we actually need to hold. To gauge the state of technical writing in India at a base level, answer to the following questions sincerely (you may add to this list):

How many people understand the job profile of a technical writer?

  • Have you ever heard any student (school going or college going) say that they want to take up technical writing as a career?
  • How many Indian universities offer degree programs (or atleast part-time courses) in the field of technical writing/communication?
  • How many books on technical writing related topics have been published in India by Indian writers?
  • How many Indian publishers are ready to publish books on this subject?
  • How many advertisements for the technical writing jobs appear in the newspapers?
  • Are there any well-known journals or magazines devoted to the field of technical writing, just as Femina, Stardust, Digit, and Inside-Outside are known for their respective fields?
  • What percent of the freshers applying for the technical writing positions actually know about technical writing?
  • What is the average gap between the salaries of a programmer and a technical writer?
  • Do organizations have a career path set for the technical writers?
  • Do organizations spend time, effort, and/or money for the professional development of the technical writers working with them?
  • How many organizations voluntarily sponsor STC membership for their employees?
  • How many organizations sponsor their technical writers to attend the STC meetings?
  • More importantly how many organizations (read management) know about the STC?

Changing Career (to and from Technical Writing)

This is an excerpt from my book “Technical Writing” published in 2008.

Changing Careers to Technical Writing

You may currently be doing something else and want to take up technical writing as your career. In this case, you are not only changing your job but your career as well. Even though you are unhappy with the current job, the very thought of change is unnerving. If you are making a switch only because of some minor problems you are facing in your current job, you should look for the solutions to the problems. Else, you may have time only to run away from problems.

If you are considering changing careers, you may have some concerns if you are not really aware of the job profile. Any change is scary, and changing careers is even scarier. Once you have decided to move on to technical writing, first start by putting together a perfect resume. You may have to underplay some of your existing talents, experience, and skills and overplay a few others that are specific to this field.

  • Some Concerns

As a person with some work experience (though not related to this field), you may have a few concerns (in a random order):

    • The first concern may probably be whether you would like the work. You may fear that you may not like the job profile, the responsibilities, the work atmosphere, the corporate culture, or the that you might find it boring or not stimulating enough.
    • Another major concern is regarding the salary. Since you enter this field as a newcomer, chances are you might earn less than what you presently earn. On the other hand, chances are that you might earn more than your current salary.
    • You may also worry about losing out on benefits that you currently enjoy
  • Still Concerned?

If these issues don’t bother you, it means that you are ready for the change. You can now focus on other factors that will help you to prepare yourself for this change:

    • Understand the concepts of technical writing, the tools used, and other things related to this field so that you can converse logically and intelligently.
    • Take a look at a few manuals to understand how they are written, organized, and formatted.
    • Understand why and how certain things are done (e.g., consistency in the documents)
  • Previous Experience

A commonly asked question is I have x years experience in abcd 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 like the others. The same amount of time and effort will have to be dedicated to you for training (the concepts, writing styles, processes, procedures, tools, etc.).

This is even more evident if the work experience you have is in no way related to writing (instructional designing, content writing, etc.). Any previous experience will be valid in terms of the soft skills (team spirit, communication, leadership qualities, 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 the 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 think of yourself as one. This will help you move forward with a clarity of thought.

Changing Careers from Technical Writing

The question is how many people are content being a technical writer? Do they see themselves being technical writers for the rest of their working lives, or do they hope to move into another field or into management category? There are numerous instances wherein technical writers with over 10 years experience are still senior writers or team leaders. This does not mean that they are not good at their work.

This happens due to lack of the right opportunity, lack of organizational requirement, or even the organizational policies. These writers don’t mind the designation as very often they are paid well for their skills, knowledge, expertise, and experience. Many of them earn more than what a documentation manager with similar or lesser experience might earn. If you are a motivated individual, you can find a lot of opportunities to grow in the area of technical writing.

Actually, the designation makes no sense here—it is all in the mind. But again, this is a very personal perspective. Before asking what next ask, yourself the following questions?

    • Do you know your responsibilities as a technical writer?
    • Did you identify areas where you wanted to improve?
    • Have you set goals for yourself|long term and short term?
    • Have you learned from your mistakes?
    • Have you found solutions for all the problems you have faced?
    • Did you gain the respect of people in your team and other teams you work with?
    • Do the others feel that you are a dependable and/or responsible team person
    • Do the others see you as a valuable member of the team?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, ask yourself why do you feel the need to switch careers or move out of the organization? If you feel that you still have a long way to go, first try to achieve the goals to overcome them and then ask yourself what next?