Posts Tagged ‘ Technical Writing ’

Skills Required To Be a Technical Communicator

Like other profession, technical writing requires knowledge of certain skills. Skill sets primarily involves writing and illustrations. The world of technology and technical communication has evolved dramatically. Following are some of the basic skill sets that a technical communicator should encompass.

Writing Skills

For a technical communicator, writing skills can never be overlooked. A technical communicator should write in a simple, clear and concise language. Write up should convey information for a variety of audiences.

Technical Skills

Technical skills of technical communicators depend on the subject matter. Hardware and software documentation requires different skill sets that a technical communicator needs to bring on to his desk. Usually technical communicators have a technical background. A technical communicator asked to document developer’s guide may need to have a fair bit of knowledge on the platform. When a writer is tasked with advanced weapon system, they might need an advanced degree of engineering as well as solid knowledge of government documentation standards. A technical communicator should possess basic technical knowledge used in a technical process, product or a service which needs to be documented.

Tool Skills

A technical communicator must know various software tools used in technical writing. Since they have to develop document in various forms such as Word, PDF, CHM, and HTML. Writers must know specific tools, like Adobe FrameMaker, RoboHelp, Snag-It, MS word, Adobe Acrobat X pro, Author-It. Depending on the product and client requirements, technical communicators must be able to deliver various forms of documents.

Design Skills

Technical communicators should never underestimate the usage of graphics. Writers should be able to convey their ideas in a document with the help of some basic graphics. Being a communicator we should know that 90% of our brain captures information which is graphically depicted.

Testing Skills

A technical communicator should actively participate in testing the product, service or process. It’s a sole duty of writers to correct the spelling mistakes in the product.

The above mentioned skills are the basic skills that a technical communicator should posses. Skills may vary depending on the educational background of the writer and his field of experience.

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How Engineers Can Improve Technical Writing Skills

Engineers are highly technical people who essentially don’t mean they are good technical writers. Engineers should understand that they are documenting their ideas and not to impress. This is the main key for successful documentation. In this article we shall discuss some important points that an engineer should follow before documenting any product or service.bw

One of the main Keys for successful documentation is “keep it simple”. Relaxed writing style can add clarity and vigour to your documents.

Know Your Audiences: Before documenting any product or service you must know the knowledge level of your audiences (end-users). Your document should serve the purpose. Assume the document is intended for lay people and you have written the document for engineers, then the document is of no use. You have to re-write the entire document.

Be Concise: Technical personals are busy people, so your document should be crisp clear and concise. Avoid usage of redundant words. Avoid usage of wordiness in which a modifier repeats an idea which is already conveyed.

Be Consistent: Inconsistency in the document may confuse your readers, and convince them written document is disorganized. Good technical writers strive for consistency in the use of grammar, technical terms, symbols and abbreviations.

Avoid Big Words: Sometimes Writers prefer to use big words instead of short words. Use simple and straight forward English, your readers will love you for it. Some of the big words used are terminated, optimum, and incombustible and so on; these words can be replaced by the end, best and fireproof.

Use Visuals: We all know that a single image represents 1000 words, so drawing, graphics screen-shots can re-enforce your text. Visual representation can make your document more attractive and more effective. We remember 12% of what we read, but 35% of what we see. Different types of visuals that can be used in the documentation are photographs, schematic diagrams, tables, graphs, charts (Pie, bar, graphs), and maps.

Use Active voice: In active voice, action is expressed directly. In passive voice, the action is indirect. Statements written in active voice are simple, easy to understand, and concise. When possible, use active voice. Your document should be vigorous and straight.

Prefer Specific Over General: Technical end-users are interested to read detailed specific technical information such as facts, recommendations, figures, and conclusions. Be specific whenever possible; contents should not say something is good, bad, fast or slow, but instead it can say how good, how bad, how fast and how slow.

Breakup Writing into Short Sentences: Long, unbroken blocks of contents intimidate and bore readers. Break your content into smaller chunks–makes it easier to read and understand. In the same way shorter sentences are easier to grasp than longer ones.

I hope the above tips help engineers to improve their technical writing skills.

Why do we need technical writers to write technical documentation?

Technical writing is currently a booming industry in India. A professional technical writer is the one who handles technical writing in an organization. Knowledge on industry writing standards and also about the tools that are used to create a more appealing document is necessary for a technical writer. Here in Black & White Tech Writing Solutions we have a team of talented technical writers who possess the knowledge and talent in creating technical document of international standards. We help organizations to provide better user adoption and cut down cost on maintaining a technical support forum.

Technical writing is a process of creating documents on complex technical concepts and instructions in simple steps, so that users can perform intended tasks in a specific way with ease. The process of writing a technical document involves translating technical information into documents that are both precise and concise. There are different types of technical documentations that include release notes, product installation guides, walk through demos; whitepapers and case studies.

The most commonly known technical documents are the user guides and product manuals. Users of any hardware or software products would be aware of these documents.

A technical writer is a professional who possess technical knowledge with good writing abilities. A technical writer should be able to create technical material in a concise and effective way.

For a technical writer to present information in the most appropriate manner, he/she should first be aware of the target audience and the goal of the document. For example, a user manual for java JDK software will require minimum technical information as the audience here would have more technical knowledge when compared to audience for a user manual of a television, which is written for general public.

Documents can be printed or posted online, but before doing that they should follow some similar guidelines, layout and structure in giving information to maintain professionalism in a consistent manner.

A good technical document should follow many formal standards or guidelines. Technical documentation will have various styles and formats to choose from. These are usually chosen depending on the medium it is used and subject area it has to cover.

Generally, technical writers follow formatting conventions described in a standard style guide. The two most used style guides being MSTP (Manual of Style for Technical Publication) and CMS (Chicago Manual of Style). There are also many tools used by technical writers to make a document more appealing and also professional. The tools are necessary to create or customize both text and visual graphics in the document.

Technical writers generally follow five procedures in creation of a technical document. They are:

  1. Analyzing the audience for whom the document is been created.
  2. Collecting all the required information of a product that is been documented.
  3. Coming up with a project plan and a document layout to give a structure for the document.
  4. Proof reading the document created to make sure there are no typographical errors, such as errors in grammar or spelling.
  5. Sending the document for detailed final review from subject matter experts or the technical team.

On acceptance of the document there is a sign-off mail sent by the reviewed team confirming the successful completion of document creation.

Though in some smaller organizations the developers themselves try and create technical documentation, their lack of writing skills are clearly displayed with inconsistent document structure and improper format.

To create a good technical documentation it requires more knowledge about writing format other than just having a good command over language, which a technical writer is trained to possess. Documents that are created with proper documentation knowledge confirm proper use of styles and accuracy in both technicality and writing.

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Major Challenges Faced By a Technical Writer

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Each job has its own challenges and opportunities. Lets us understand the challenges faced by tech writers in the field of documentation. Here in this blog let’s have a discussion about the challenges faced by tech writers. Following are some of the major challenges faced by tech writers in the field of documentation.

  • Analysing the Audiences

Knowing the knowledge level of the audiences is the major task associated with tech writers. Before getting started, writers should have a thorough knowledge of the end-users. Writers should also have a clear knowledge about purpose of the document, media of publication, and location of the end-users.

  • Gathering Required Information from the SMEs

Most of the times, SMEs might not have time to explain the product or process to the documentation team. It is a sole duty of tech writers to gather clear information from SMEs.

  • Reviewing the Document

Once the document is completed by tech writers, it must be reviewed. Often SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) find it difficult to review the document created by tech writers and give their feedback. This problem is faced by all tech writers. This problem can be solved to a small extent by distributing the work to non-writers and look how far they can understand the product or process using this document.

  • Team Work

Personality conflict occurs when people work in a group. It is applicable to tech writers too. Generally once a document is completed; it will be reviewed and edited by senior writers or by SMEs. This is to ensure that proper information is conveyed in this document. But, this leads to clash between SMEs. Often, writers find it complicated to implement suggestions from various sources.

  • Need for Quality Document

Most of the software developers feel that tech writing is not much important as development. The condition has changed, now everyone is expecting a quality document for their product and services. Now, success of the product lies in the quality of the document.

Following are some of the other challenges faced by tech writers

  • Little or no information about the product or service.
  • Computer and tool problem.
  • Last minute changes.
  • Limited access to product.
  • Poorly defined products.
  • Lack of control over the work environment.
  • Deadline

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Technical Writing Deliveribles

Technical writing is a broad field that embraces different types of documents used for specific purpose in various fields such as science, construction, engineering, industries, and business. Technical documents are written keeping focus on the type of end-users being targeted.

Types of Deliverables:

User Manual: User manuals are the explanations or instructions written to help end users of the product. Most important property of user manuals is simple language, since it is mostly targeted for non-technical users. Writer’s job is to cover all the minute details of the product and include troubleshooting tricks and clear explanation of difficult technical terms.

Reports: Reports are prepared at all levels for various purposes. Perfect formatting and layout design are very important in a report. Reports require severe research and data analysis. Some types of report include case study reports, business and sales reports and academic project reports.

deliverables

Spec Sheets:  spec sheet is an information sheet that illustrates manufacturing and construction process. Spec sheets are widely used in instrumentation, production and medical industries. Spec sheets are mainly targeted to the service providers or contractors, who will analyze the information and estimate the scope and technology required for the completion of the project.

Abstracts: Abstracts are brief guides of a report that summarizes the whole project or report. Abstracts summarize the important information in the report, and include topics or chapters that are covered in the reports.

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Editing and Proofreading Techniques

Careful reading of a document, to detect any errors in punctuation, or grammar, or spelling is referred as proofreading. Proofreading also involves checking elements in the document for their placement, correct dimensions, etc. Revising, arranging and preparing a written document for final production other than creation of materials is referred as editing. Editing involves detection and removal of grammatical, factual, elimination of parts not suitable for targeted audiences, and typographical errors.

proofreading

Following are some general tips for proofreading and editing.

  • As a first screening use spell checker and grammar checker, but do not depend on it.
  • Read the entire content slowly.
  • Carefully read type in very tiny font.
  • Closely review header, footer and page numbers for correct order.
  • Review a hard copy.
  • Read your text backwards.
  • Develop the habit of using more than one method for editing or proofreading your work.
  • Do not try to proofread for everything at once. Focus one issue at a time.
  • Do not use fluorescent lighting when proofreading.
  • Make a list of things to do before proofreading or editing.
  • Create your own editing or proofreading checklist.
  • Most importantly find a quiet place to work

One of the best methods to prepare yourself to proofread is by writing at the end of the day and edit first ting in the morning.

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Objective of Technical Writing

Technical writing covers design documentation, references, Installation guides, user manuals, help desk sheets, online or offline tutorials and, any content, which is technical in character. With the surfacing of increasingly different audiences, users and customers of technical documents, the roles of technical writers are being modified consequently. Therefore, technical writers must keep some key goals in mind to produce specific, convincing and concise technical materials.

With the dawn of the computing era and the abundance of electronics and Web-technologies, technical document is produced in various forms and formats. Understanding formats and the vital tools to produce content for a particular format is vital in Technical writing.

Gathering information accurately and work together with subject matter experts, product designers, developers, engineers, technical architects etc. is one of the key assets to developing the right kind of technical document in any form and format and for any platform. Any form of technical document has to communicate effectively with its end users, audiences and customers.

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