CHAT Article on state of Technical Writing in India (1200 words)

Subject: CHAT Article on state of Technical Writing in India (1200 words)
From: Gurudutt Kamath/Technical Writing Centre <guruk -at- GIASBM01 -dot- VSNL -dot- NET -dot- IN>
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 1996 12:01:47 +0530

Hello Fellow Professionals,

I wrote an article on the current technical writing scenario in India for
Express Computer, India's leading computer weekly. I thought I will
share the article with you all as an attachment.

Greetings of the season...

Technical Writing Centre, Mumbai (Bombay), India

"I edit_s_ users manuals." "i rights them 2."
(guruk -at- giasbm01 -dot- vsnl -dot- net -dot- in)
(Voice:91-22-886 21 83 Pager: 9624-215 911)

Here is the text of the article published in Express Computer,

India's popular computer weekly, in a special 100 page issue

"Industry speaks... ...on the challenges of the New Millennium."

There is no Documentation Culture!

A donkey laden with loads of treasures is an image which one

carries of India, thanks to Nani Palhivala. All the treasure is

there, but the donkey does not know about it. This is true of the

computer industry and documentation as well. There are islands

of technical excellence in an ocean of mediocrity. If there are

hundreds of Indian software professionals doing some fantastic

work all over the world, specially in hot companies like

Netscape, Microsoft, Oracle, Novell, etc; back home there are

software professionals who have not even heard of the Internet.

Unity in diversity, they call it. Are we or are we not on the

leading edge of technology? Can we compete with the rest of the

world in documentation? I wish to explore this question.

Trying to dig into the Web for information on technical writing

throws up lots of answers. If in India, there are people who have

not heard of technical writing, on the Web there are thousands of

sites exclusively devoted to Technical Writing. There are

several Usenet groups too. If you scan Indian papers, you will

see four or five positions advertised -- in a whole year. Check

out the Web, you are sure to find several sites, with each site

boasting of as many as 15 pages of technical writing jobs. In

India, when you tell people that the salary offer for technical

writers in India can be $1,000 (Rs.36,000), there is only

disbelief. In USA, salaries for Senior Technical Writers are

sometimes as high as $80,000.

There are several universities in the US which offer full-fledged

programs in Technical Writing. In India, there are only sporadic

efforts like seminars and workshops. You can even get a

Doctorate in Technical Writing in US! Here technical writers are

abused, they are thought of as mere hacks, pen-pushers, and

worse, typists and computer operators.

Abroad, technical writers are being designated as Technical

Poets. They are winning awards. They are being recognized and

honoured. In India, there are software companies which cannot

distinguish between a technical writer and a computer operator.

With such a scenario, can we be competitive.

Enough of cribbing now. Let us go on to the task of understanding

where we are in terms of technical writing globally.

"The quality of documentation in India is very poor as compared

to the documentation done in other countries like US or European

countries," say Rajiv Apte, Director, Digital Tools &


Mr Rajiv Sachdeva, General Manager, Tandon Information Solutions,

agrees, "We have lost almost the entire packaged software market

in the world because of poor documentation. Our image is of

being good technical programmers and not of being complete

solution providers. This area is most wanting in India. This is

neither taught in any curriculum nor is emphasized in any of the

Indian companies. In fact, this is one of the major reasons India

has been unable to project itself as a country which can develop

quality software. Indirectly, this hampers our marketing efforts

very badly."

That's the paradox. We are gaining a reputation for software

development and technology. Many printing and scanning jobs from

abroad are executed in India. Yet, look at our product packaging,

our manuals, and the technical writing. The immaturity shows.

The reason for this Mr Sachdeva feels is "Documentation needs

special time and effort, which most software companies do not

want to spend -- at least in the initial stages. Documentation,

therefore, is a non-focus area for the company. It is never

strategised as part of the long-term marketing plan."

Pravin Gandhi, independent consultant, formerly directing the

products marketing efforts at TCS and responsible for creating

several software brands, notably E.X., feels, "Documentation

culture will come only with products. We are nowhere in

products. The Indian software companies are shying away from

product development, taking the easy short-term approach of (1)

body shopping (2) custom software development. In both these

areas, documentation is either not their responsibility, or at

best only perfunctory. In other industries outside IT too, we

follow an engineering approach, rather than a marketing or

customer oriented approach. The engineer thinks of the product,

not of the user. We need to put customer/user before product, be

it any category. There has to be collaboration between the

people who design, those in marketing and the language experts.

Clearly, these are three different disciplines, but an

engineering disposition tends to focus everything on oneself."

Gandhi adds, "Programmers shun documentation. Employers do not

treat is as important, so programmers too would rather move on to

other development work. Also, documentation has no value on


How does our documentation compare with the rest of the world?

Why don't we have a reputation for good documentation? India is

known for its English language skills and software, yet we are

not famous for Technical Writing. Rajiv Apte feels that the

notion that India is famous for quality software development is

exaggerated. He says, "The software we develop are always to the

needs of the customer. If the customer is satisfied, the goal

finishes there. For our foreign projects, the documentation in

almost all the cases is done outside. What we do here is to put

specification in user presentable form. I do not recall a single

case where development from writing specifications to testing is

done here. We need to take projects where we are given all rights

to do the documentation.."

"In domestic projects, some companies do some documentation. But

the question of money comes in. Who will pay for the

documentation, the software company or the customer? Whether to

write a User manual or a Programmer's manual remains a question.

I think this is where we lag behind. Companies should insist on

documentation. We do documentation for our projects. We do

prepare manuals for every product that goes out of our company.

All companies should do this."

What can we do to be competitive and be recognized as a global

player in documentation. Have our share of the cake? What can

we do to improve documentation? Says Gandhi, "Develop products,

and it will happen automatically." Sachdeva adds, "First, we have

to change our attitude towards the development process and give

documentation its due. Second, documentation should be made a

part of the learning curriculum."

What are the problems companies face in terms of documentation/

technical writing. Gandhi says, "(a) motivating the programmers

to write the first draft (b) extremely long cycles of editing,

art works, proof reading." Sachdeva added, "Making it a part of

the development process, motivating staff to spend time on this

activity. Also, keeping the updates regular and in time.

Documentation is not very motivating to people and we are not

addressing it the right way."

Gurudutt Kamath

Gurudutt Kamath heads the Technical Writing Centre.

Email:guruk -at- giasbm01 -dot- vsnl -dot- net -dot- in

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