A brief overview of Technical Communication as I am often asked what is it that I do.
Early Days of My Career
I have been a Technical Communicator (Technical Writer) for over 8 years now. My career began at SunTec Business Solutions, located at Trivandrum. We were a small team and people often asked what we do. We would reply that we develop the Help documentation for the products you develop. It was easier to make understand at work. But back at home, which is at a rural place, and people are still not very familiar of the great advancements of technology, I had a difficult time explaining my Job Role. I simply used to say, when you buy a TV or phone, you get a User Manual. I similarly develop User Manuals for much complex software products. Not many understood what was a software product also. When I shifted to Bangalore to work with Sasken Networks, it was a bigger exposure. It was a Services company and we were a team of 50+ writers. Here, people knew who Tech Writers are and what they do.
What We Do
So to describe the profile, Technical Writers are those who prepare the documentation for the Software and Hardware Products. Documentation can range from simple Release Notes to complete Online Helps. Technical documents involving information to Install and Deploy a product, Use it, Troubleshoot Issues, etc, are typical projects that a Technical Writer usually works on.
It is not as easy as said. One must learn the product, how it works, test each scenario before documenting it, and pay attention to very fine details. To get more clarification, we browse more on the topics, speak to the developers and SMEs, and go through all the Test Cases and Design documents prepared. In my experience, the research before the actual writing takes a long time and if done properly, makes your writing better and resourceful.
Tools We Use
There are lots of Tech Writing tools available now. In fact, there are Technical Communication Suites also. The most popular ones are the Adobe Suite and the MadCap Suite. So we basically use good quality software to author a project, take screen captures, create flow diagrams, view the output, and even to create product videos. And yes, we use Content Management Systems to keep our work organized and safe.
Being an Effective Technical Writer
To be an effective Technical Writer, one must have a fair understanding of the domain and very good understanding of the product, apart from the tools and techniques of the trade. It helps a lot to refer existing documentation of competitor products and try to find gaps in the documentation of your product. The competitor documents may be better or even worse than your product's. But still, the comparison gives an insight of the different techniques being used.
Language and writing skills are two other key skills that a good writer must have. Everybody can write. But writing effectively for an audience is not everybody's skill. A technically sound person can write, but it may not be comprehensible to the audience. So a successful Technical Writer is one who conveys even the most technical details in absolutely understandable terms, accurately, to the End User.
And having said all these, I love my profession! There were times in my career when I thought that I made a wrong choice. But now I realize that it was just the lack of right opportunities.