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CHAT Article on state of Technical Writing in India (1200 words)
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
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 heads the Technical Writing Centre.
Email:guruk -at- giasbm01 -dot- vsnl -dot- net -dot- in
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