Ever wondered who writes the instruction manuals that you get with your microwave or your cell phone? Do these people actually know the functioning of that microwave or they quick learners? Do they need training or do they simply have a way with words? And wait, what exactly are they called?
This month’s Getting Candid brings to you answers to all the above questions in this interesting talk with Makarand (Mak) Pandit, CEO and the Principal Trainer at Technowrites, Pune. Technowrites is the prime technical writing training institute in the city that aims to simplify technology and empower users.
Most people are minimally aware as to what the profession of technical writing actually entails. Could you tell us a little bit about this profession?
Technical writing basically means writing different types of documents required by the industry. This includes user manuals or user guides for appliances or softwares. MS Office, for example, comes with a help file if you have noticed. Creating such help files is a part of our job. We also create service and maintenance manuals, requirements specification guides, etc. for teams of engineers who develop a certain product. It is, however, very important to remember that technical writing isn’t strictly limited to engineering or IT. Any domain specific writing like environment, pharmaceuticals, etc. could fall under this category.
Does technical writing usually include a lot of jargon or is that just a myth?
A document that a technical writer creates doesn’t necessarily have too much of technical information or domain specific words. It could also be a “How to use” guide for a mobile phone that explains the features to users in a very simple and user-friendly language.
So is having an excellent command over the language extremely essential for technical writers?
Definitely. And along with language skills, a good technical writer also needs to have the aptitude to learn and understand technology. He can then make sense of the technology and make it easily understandable to the end user. So a person who has a passion for both technology and writing is the perfect candidate for technical writing. But despite having good writing skills and domain knowledge, a formal training is essential to make a good technical writer.
On a slightly different note, do you believe that the fields of technical writing and translation are interconnected?
Yes. We are in fact the interlinking pieces of the entire chain of content development. If a technical writer doesn’t write, a translator will have nothing to translate. And if a translator doesn’t translate, it is impossible for the writer to reach a wider range of readers. So I think our careers and our successes are definitely interdependent, so to say.
Would you agree that the role of written instructions is decreasing in the favour of newer media like videos?
That is definitely happening. We can find all kinds of help videos on the Internet and they are much more accessible. It is always a lot easier to Google for help as compared to fishing the user manual out and consulting it.
So how does this affect the field of technical writing?
I think this only creates greater opportunities for the field of technical writing. A video needs to present some content too, doesn’t it? It cannot be blank. So it is still technical writing but in a different format. And though the traditional paper manuals are being overrun by help websites and pages, creation of text and content is something that will always be required. I think it will be the processes of reviewing and publishing that will face change and not the actual process of content creation.
How would all these changes affect the translation industry according to you?
Like I said, no matter how much technology progresses, the need to write text will never be eliminated and hence, there will always be a need for good translators to make the content available to more people. Secondly, this will lead to an increase in the demand for subtitling, voice-overs, etc. Like technical writers, translators will also begin to think of ways to present content in newer formats. Development of technology will make the process of content creation a lot more seamless and it will become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two fields.
As a parting shot, how, according to you, does the knowledge of foreign languages or a few more Indian languages benefit a technical writer?
If the document is the vehicle to carry the message, a language is the fuel for that vehicle. It is the very essence. So the more languages I know, the better are my career prospects. In fact, learning a foreign language is on the top of my wish list for 2016 (smiles).