Outsourcing Technical Writing For Better Results

Procedural documentation and manuals are an integral part of industrial training. Similarly, when high-tech products are introduced in the market they have to be packaged along with user manuals that effectively communicate to the customers' optimum usage of the product as also details of trouble shooting. New business systems need to be supported by user assistance manuals and structured training manuals. All these requirements need the services of a good technical writer. The focus of technical writing is to

o analyze and assess audience needs
o design the documents with appropriate words and images
o Test and measure the effectiveness of the information disseminated and make necessary modifications as needed to increase the effectiveness of the communication.

Professional technical writers possess expertise in understanding and analyzing technical information and presenting a quality document that can be easily understood. They are able to structure complex technical information in a user friendly manner. They also gauge what information is critical for the reader - the most important being how to use the product efficiently rather than details of how or why it works. Writers with engineering and technical backgrounds who can comfortably interact with engineers and technicians are ideally well suited to handle technical writing projects.

However the cost of employing full time in-house technical writers is substantial and includes not just the salary but also insurance and paid leave, apart from office space and supplies. The cost incurred on a full-time writer is often not justified given the varying work load. As an alternative, very often companies delegate the task of writing operating manuals to their in-house engineers who may not be comfortable with the written word and may not even be motivated as they prefer to be hands on engineers.

The Solution - Get a Team of Experts at Half the Cost

The ultimate aim of technical communication is to explain, train, and teach through well made documents. This means that the writers must have sound technical knowledge and strong language skills. In addition they also require two important attributes - discipline and consistency. These are skills and attributes that offshore professional technical writing firms thrive on. The end objective of any technical document be it an online help document, a printed manual or a downloadable PDF file, is effective communication to the end customer. Offshore technical writing teams are well equipped to design textual and visual content for concise and clean technical communication delivering exceptional results at extremely competitive rates.

Additional Benefits:

You retain Full Control

When technical writing services are outsourced, you are paying only for the end product. You also have more control over an outsourced technical writing team than in-house employees. Moreover these professional technical writing firms offer trial documentation before the actual offshore process is initiated. This ensures you have complete control over quality and time lines.

Your developers can focus on their core skills

Developers are not necessarily good writers. A trained technical writer is well qualified to extract essential knowledge and present it using the appropriate tone in a language that will be understood by the specific audience using the product.

The Net Value Addition

On off shoring your technical writing tasks to a dedicated, professional team with the necessary expertise and equipment, you will be able to get technical documentation done in a time-bound, cost-effective manner. As engineering and software firms work on tight schedules, outsourcing technical documentation tasks increases their overall productivity.

Technical Writing Programs - Brooklyn College Technical Writing Program

There are quite a few certificate programs offered in the United States by different universities for those just starting out and considering Technical Writing as a career. In my honest opinion, a certificate is not necessary to make it in the technical communication field but it does not hurt either, especially if your resume does not include a list of prior tech writing jobs.

Brooklyn College is an educational institution that you can certainly consider if you'd like to earn a certificate in Technical Writing before you apply for a related job. Perhaps it's not one of the biggest schools around but they offer a dedicated program made up of continuing-education courses.

To be eligible for the certificate, the students must take 8 classes, each $355 (at this writing) and each lasting 8 weeks. The whole program costs $2840.

Here are the full curriculum of Technical Writing classes at Brooklyn College:

TW100: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics for Technical Writers
TW101: Technical Writing Fundamentals
TW102: Graphics for Technical Writers
TW103: User Guides and FrameMaker
TW104: Technical Documentation with XHTML and CSS
TW105: Online Helps and RoboHELP
TW106: Researched Technical Reports and Proposals
TWI07: Indexing
TW108: Technical Editing
TW109 User Guides with Microsoft Word
TW110: Starting a Technical-Writing Career
TW113: Business Communications
TW999: Special Topics in Technical Communication

This is a very practical hands-on program that teaches real-life skills which a technical writer can start to apply right away. Their FrameMaker class is one such offering that you can put to good use since a lot of technical writing teams use FrameMaker to generate and single-source documents.

Another thing I like about Brooklyn College's program is the way they present the portfolios of their former students. That way you can see what the program actually does and how various students have benefitted from studying at BC. I think that's actually a brilliant idea that all other certificate programs should emulate since it builds trust on the part of the prospective applicants.

Check out BC's certificate program web site which offers good tutorials and full course descriptions as well. Google for "Brooklyn College Technical Writing Certificate Program."

Technical Writing - What's the Difference Between Business Writing and Technical Writing?

There are a number of books, programs, and classes out there today offering to teach "technical writing." Some of these are excellent; prepared by industry veterans who know what they're doing. But some others are basically rehashing old "business writing" concepts and techniques under the guise of "technical writing."

"So what?" you may ask, which is a fair question. And here is the answer: if you are seriously considering to go out there and find yourself a job as a "technical writer" then you need to have at least one technical document prepared according to industry standards and expectations. Business writing in general will of course help you communicate better and conduct your business more efficiently. That's why it's a good thing. But when it comes to finding a technical writing job, business writing won't help you much. No recruiter will accept a business writing sample as a proof of your technical writing skills, especially in the hi-tech sector where I've been working for over 10 years now.

Business writing is all kinds of copy generated to administer, communicate with and control others in a work environment. It covers all office communications, and topics like how to write a memo; how to write an e-mail; how to prepare a report; how to write meeting minutes; all kinds of business letters, etc.

While helpful, such knowledge will not be enough to find a job in the highly competitive field of modern technical communications. Instead, what you need to learn is the kind of documentation generated every day in such hi-tech industries as software, hardware, networking, telecommunications, manufacturing, chemicals, finance, defense, etc.

Does your instructor help you learn what a "scope" document is, for example, and how it is written? How do you prepare and write "release notes"? What's the crucial difference between an "interface guide" and a "procedural guide"? Do you know how to write a QCP for a defense contractor?

There are many other similar topics that a beginner needs to learn to prepare him or herself for a great career in technical writing. Once you know the crucial difference between "business writing" and "technical writing," you can make a better decision as to which questions to ask before buying a technical writing book or registering in a technical writing program. That way you won't waste your time, money and energy on a product or a program that won't help you reach your main goal. As always the case, knowledge is power in this particular issue as well.

Technical Writing - What's the Difference Between Copy Writing and Technical Documentation?

There are 4 different goals of writing, depending on the writer and assignment in question.

Writers try to

1) sell
2) teach
3) move, or
4) administer others.

And these goals give rise to the following 4 different types of writing:

1) Copy writing (sell)
2) Technical writing (teach)
3) Fiction/Creative writing (move)
4) Business writing (administer).

Copy writing tries to sell products and services, as the advertisement-legend David Ogilvie always (and rightfully) maintained. And I agree with him. Until and unless someone buys something, copy writing is not good for anything.

Technical writing, on the other hand, is an answer to the basic question of HOW.

But in order for technical writing to explain the "how" of anything, there first has to be a clear definition of its "WHAT" and "WHY". Without that pre-requisite step, your technical writing can easily get lost in the woods.

This is usually expressed as the principle of knowing who "the audience" is.

This is just another way of saying that unless a technical writer is sure of the PURPOSE behind the document, that is, the manner in which the users will use the document to PERFORM certain tasks, then just explaining how something is done, may or may not get the job done.

Why?

Because there is always more than one way to describe the HOW of anything.

For example, imagine you are asked to write a technical guide on the HOW of running; a "User's Guide to Running."

If as a technical writer you immediately pull up your sleeves and start writing i, you might be in for a big trouble.

Let's say you devote chapters on strength and speed training, without ever thinking WHAT this guide is supposed to achieve, for WHAT kind of an audience.

What if it turns out that you were actually asked to write this guide for runners over 50 years old, who could care less about "strength" and "speed" but are keen about "losing weight"? That of course would require a totally different sort of technical guide, wouldn't it?

Copy writing excels as long as people buy the product; period.

Technical writing, on the other hand, excels only when the description of HOW matches the PERFORMANCE GOAL of the project's AUDIENCE (or, the project's "WHAT" and "WHY").

Technical Writing Programs - Oklahoma State University's Technical Writing Program

Enrolling in a college-level certification program in Technical Writing might be time consuming and not that cheap either but it's an idea you might certainly consider. There are some excellent certificate programs offered by different universities in the United States if you are just starting out in your career.

Oklahoma State University (OSU)'s Technical Writing Program is one of the best available in the United States since its early beginnings back in 1977. The students get an BA, MA or Ph.D. degree, which are actually English degrees "with a specialization in Technical Writing."

The OSU program boasts 5 lecturers, an Assistant Director, a Visiting Assistant Professor and Coordinator, and a full Program Director and Professor of Technical Writing.

The students learn how to write technical reports, write web site content, write manuals, tutorials, and résumés, conduct field interviews. The program exposes "students to the tools and time demands they will face in the profession" Plus "in this program, students can expect to hear expert speakers and get plenty of hands-on learning."

Here are some of the B.A. level courses offered at OSU (all 3 credits):

English 3223 -- Technical Communication Criticism & Theory
English 3323 -- Technical Writing
English 4523 -- Technical Writing Internship
English 4533 -- Advanced Technical Writing
English 4543 -- Technical Editing

M.A. level courses include:

ENGL 5513 -- Introduction to Technical Communication
ENGL 5520 -- Internship in Technical Writing (6 credits)
ENGL 5593 -- Technical Style and Editing

If I were a high school graduate today looking for a college program to attend for a technical communication career, I'd definitely give the OSU program an honest thought.