Time and again this subject has been discussed on various tech-writing mailing lists. We have come a long way since the profession started getting recognition. The situation has drastically changed in the last 15 years. Important changes can be listed as follows:
- The number of Indian Technical Writers has gone up multifold. The number today is estimated to be around 12,000 to 15,000. This includes freshers as well as professionals who have made a mid-career change.
- Many companies have built their own captive teams of Technical Writers in India owing to price, co-location, availability and a number of other reasons.
- The salaries of Technical Writers have been rising for a considerable part of the last 10 years (based on the Salary Surveys published by STC India Chapter in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2008). Though the 2008 survey does show marginal reduction or flattening.
- The expectations from Technical Writers have increased. One can cite many reasons for this, including changes in product, changes in technology, reduction in time to market, changes in documentation processes, availability of better tools, and so on.
Growth has its own challenges and issues. If these issues are not addressed, long term success is not possible. We tried to look at many questions associated with this unprecedented growth in a number of writers.
- Are the Technical Writing Managers really happy with their team members? Do they see any improvement areas?
- Are writers able to work to their level of satisfaction? Do they feel that they need to improve and learn something?
- Are the various private courses really adding value? Is the industry expecting improved courses? What change is it expecting?
- Is there any scope of means to standardize the various courses and draw some guidelines to ensure value?
- Is there any scope for Western Universities to start offering courses in India (possibly through distance learning mode)?
The authors got interested in these questions and then decided to research the market. After carefully studying the various areas that can be touched upon, we identified performance and the need of systematic Technical Writing education as the focus for our research. We prepared two surveys and then hosted them on SurveyMonkey.com for 50 days. The first survey was for Technical Writing Managers (Hiring Managers) and the second was for Technical Writers. The first survey was completed by 14 participants whereas the second survey was completed by 185 participants.
The results of these surveys were first made public during the STC India 2009 Bangalore conference. In the same session we also hosted a debate about “Whether Indian Technical Writers need degrees from Western universities?”
In this article we will try to critically look at the survey results and try to comment on some of the findings. The complete survey results can be downloaded from here.
Key readings from the Hiring Manager’s survey
First, let’s look at some of the points of the Hiring Manager’s survey.
|Points from the survey results||Comments||Points to ponder|
||It is possible that a lot of technical writing being done in India is for Technical or IT products. As a result the companies feel that Technical Background is an advantage.||
||The writers need to be trained on research methodologies and information design.
A considerable number of writers depend on the SME (Subject Matter Expert) for information. Their own efforts for collecting information from other sources are limited.
||The writers are proficient with tools or are able to pick them up easily on their own or with help of their friends or colleagues.||
|56.3% of managers say that even if available, they will not prefer to hire candidates educated in US universities (the survey did not make it mandatory to add reasons or comments).||Higher expectation from the compensation package can be for a reason for this. However more research may be required before coming to a conclusion.|
|50% of managers said that if they decide to outsource work they would prefer a vendor having resources holding a degree in Technical Writing.||The percentage indicates a clear rift in thinking. So no firm conclusion can be made.||The percentage will increase if the companies actually employ certified writers.|
|12.5% of managers think that candidates having a degree in Technical Communication from a USA or UK University are better.
68.8% managers opined that they cannot comment on this question.
|The small percentage is not conclusive. The reason for such a response could be because of the fact that there aren’t enough certified candidates available right now.||The numbers could actually be indicating a great opportunity for training institutes.|
|40% of managers think that candidates having a degree in Technical Writing from USA or UK University are better in
||The courses offered by western Universities lay a good amount of emphasis on these topics.
Note that Research Analysis & Information Design was indicated as the biggest improvement area earlier.
|Courses offered in India should lay more emphasis on these topics.|
|31.3% of managers said that they did not find a candidate with a Degree/Diploma in Technical Writing.||The reason for such a response could be because of the fact that there aren’t enough certified candidates available right now.||The numbers could actually be indicating a great opportunity for training institutes.|
|92.9% of managers think that Technical Writing Communication education is required in India.||This is one of the most important points that have come out of this survey. It indicates that companies have now taken cognizance of the fact that courses are available and would expect the candidates to train themselves before applying. It also indicates that the managers may have noted that the courses are definitely adding some value.||In the absence of University-level education should hiring managers accept and even support private companies to design, develop and conduct Technical Writing courses.|
||The duration itself indicates that (assuming 180 working hours per month) new candidates are taking 3 to 6 months to learn their job hands on.
By choosing this number, the managers may have indicated that training courses need to be more exhaustive and detailed than simple weekend type (24 hours) course.
|There is enough scope for Universities to create a full-fledged Degree or Diploma course.|
|78.6% of the managers think that a governing body/society/forum should take lead in formulating and running Diploma/Degree course in Technical Writing.||The industry feels the need for (and probably is suffering from a lack of) standardization in the courses available.||Shouldn’t STC India or any other association of Tech-writing Professionals come forward and play a role here?|
||Many recruiters are aware of the courses.
Some managers are even participating in conducting such courses.
|The participation from managers should increase to improve the quality of the courses and the skill levels of trainees.|
Key readings from the Technical Writer’s survey
Now let’s talk about some of the points from the Technical Writers’ survey.
|Reading||Comments||Points to ponder|
|About 45.4% of the participants mentioned that they may think of taking a break from their career to do a course in a western (US or UK) university.||This is a staggering number if we extrapolate this – almost half the Indian tech-writers want to take a break to pursue a course abroad.
The writers feel the need to get trained and also feel that a course can boost their career.
|If the writers are ready, why isn’t there an availability of such courses in India?|
|59.1% of writers (34.4%+ 24.7%) are ready to consider an Indian University.||More and more Indian Universities should take cognizance and start similar courses.||May be there is a lack of awareness amongst the academicians or may be setting up and conducting such a course is so difficult that the institutions are not interested to be on it.|
|89.6% of the participants think that a governing body/society/forum should take lead in formulating and running Diploma/Degree course in Technical Writing.||The writers feel need for (and probably are suffering from lack of) standardization in the courses available.||Shouldn’t STC India or any other association of Tech-writing professionals come forward and play a role here?|
|63.5% participants are willing to opt for an online course.||If conducted systematically, on-line courses can be a great learning source for writers.||If conducted systematically, on-line courses can actually be more successful than classroom courses.|
|54.4% students think that they are willing to join courses floated by a private institute if it collaborates with a Western (US or UK) University.||Good business opportunity for private companies in India to think of possible tie-ups!||Why isn’t this happening?|
The authors are aware that the survey results can be interpreted in many ways and they can lead to many interesting conclusions. Hence many of the points made above are debatable. We welcome feedback, comments, and suggestions.
We encourage the readers to study the complete survey results. The files can be downloaded from here.
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The image is used by permission from Aditi Barve.
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