Wordy Wise

– Udita Banerjee

If you walk in expecting fervent activity, you will not be disappointed. In fact, it would be a gross understatement to call the work area busy. Seemingly unconnected words shuttle across the room, across cubicles. A world where phones are ringing off their hooks, mails are pouring in, in a deluge, files are being opened and edited and re-edited as per requirements and at first glance, chaos seems to reign supreme. Everyone seems to be in a crisis. But as I wait and observe, slowly it all sinks in. Then there is an epiphany of sorts and order is literally found lurking in between the lines. People here, after all, know what they are doing, I muse. All things blend to come under one big banner of technical writing.

One has expectations of the kind of work one will be assigned. It could be the rigorous handling of technical matter or well be mere editing. Many different images flit through my mind as I am getting used to the buzz and general banter around me. Introductions are quickly made and here begins the formal path. One’s first steps into the field are carefully mentored, monitored, and measured. Pitfalls of words, grammar, punctuation and usage, which seemed so distant and inconsequential in everyday life, suddenly crop up to ensnare one. Documentation, as I soon find out, also involves speed and accuracy with skills beyond words, such as the area of technical drawings. I would tread gingerly, for there is much scope for error.

There are good days and bad; ones on which there are clearly defined requirements, sane deadlines and unanimous choices made by the team. On even better days, work is smooth, one encounters people who’d rather be here than anywhere else. Targets seem reachable and on such occasions, you may feel that your reservation about treading this path, as the new one that you chose, is a storm in a teacup. Then there come the days which epitomize the nightmares of every writer; deadlines in terms of hours, ambiguous choices, insufficient details, fallacies and disagreements.

Good practices are many. Everyone has their own, personalized methods of error proofing, proofreading, and reviewing documents. Most updates to style changes, convention alterations are broadcast efficiently and care is taken to keep documents from reflecting personal styles of writing. Every tool that is used is frequently reviewed and kept updated according to the standards of the company. Most of all that is required is predefined in the software used.

There is, however, a downside to all of that. One is kept from creativity and imagination, from coming up with new and better ways of doing things. If there has been a hurdle, it tends to remain so until someone takes the initiative to find a way to work around it. Monotony creeps in, and unless one is constantly pushing to learn more, to add value to the document, there is not much that he or she will. Complacency tends to set in, and time drags. Days on end seem to yield no satisfaction, no drive. In spite of layers of reviewing, mistakes are many, lapses are common, errors fall through the cracks, and one wonders if it wasn’t better to automate the whole process and give in to disillusionment towards the present system.

Then there is the trouble of having to be polite. Exasperating situations, incorrigible people, hierarchy, the system and the likes must be dealt with, politely; when one has to paste the smile on ones face while it is anyone’s guess what one would rather do. One has to keep working with the grand scheme of things in mind. Besides the joy of working with people who love their job and make you love yours, there is also the tedium of putting up with the opposite clan.

It is an overwhelming world; and there is much that can improved. A team should ideally be made of individuals with comparable abilities. If the variation is too much, members of the team on both sides of the spectrum find it difficult. Either it is frustrating or disheartening. However, such a utopia is hard to achieve. So, for the most part, one has to make do with the rest of the team, no matter what capabilities they possess. It is up to whoever is leading, to recognize and tap potential. Like in every other field of work, managerial skills of the leader are of utmost importance. This happens because this is a line of work with a lot of grey areas, a lot of scope for perception; there may not always be a right or wrong. Acuity and judgment play a crucial role in forming the glue that holds a team in place. A leader should be such that he has risen through the ranks, faced similar problems from random areas of work, as the ones he will be confronted with on a daily basis.

Yet there is a pattern, it is easy to fall into place, find one’s own comfort zone. It is imaginable to carve out one’s own niche with ones best skills. It seems larger than life if one thinks of the multitude of people, in terms of numbers, who are working all over the world to bring a semblance of order and harmony in the realm of communication; to make technicalities of a product readable and acceptable to everyone. It is good to be in a relatively fresh branch, where being saturated or curious; mundane or experimental is in your own hands. And if you look at it in terms of the volume of work and extent of expertise needed, a new hand is always welcome. The rocks are menacing just until one settles in, after that sailing should be smooth. To me it seems, so far, so good…

About the author:

Udita Banerjee is studying the final year of Electronics & Communication Engineering at Manipal University, Karnataka. She is also an intern with the technical documentation team at STMicroelectronics India, in Greater Noida. Her passions include creative writing, public speaking, reading and music.

This article is her take on technical writing, a month into it!

About the illustration:

The image is used by permission from Aditi Barve.