Precision Bloggage from Precision Wordage

Technical writing and the economy

August 21st, 2008

The recession isn’t coming; it’s arrived. Companies are getting more and more budget sensitive, and looking for ways to cut costs. This is impinging on the field of technical documentation. I know of at least one major electronics company that asked its technical writers to take a pay cut. The writer I know there took it gladly, happy to have not been laid off completely like some of his co-workers.

But technical publications still need to be produced. As long as products are going to market, the technical documentation has to be there on how to use them.

Some companies are turning to off-shoring, but, in the words of one former client who was forced by upper echelons to go that route, “It’s a challenge since English is not the first language of the writers… things … need to be sacrificed along the way.”

Is there another solution? You betcha.

On-shore outsourcing.

At Precision Wordage, we’ve been taking only outsource projects now for about 15 years. The projects we work on minimize client costs because the client pays only for the actual writing project (and gets a high quality product in the process). No overhead, no paid vacations, no severance packages when the project is over.

If your company is looking for ways to cut costs, consider using an outsource company. Crunch the numbers and you’ll discover that technical writing from an outsource vendor will deliver the most bang for the buck, especially if you can negotiate a flat bid or not-to-exceed deal.

And if the writer is American, chances are the technical communication will actually communicate.

- Su

Your manual seem not understand?

February 7th, 2008

Have you ever opened a manual and wondered what planet the writers lived on? It probably wasn’t localized.

Localization means adaptation of the language in a document or software to a new culture or region. This could be as simple as changing the spelling from British English to American English (for example, “colour” to “color”) or it could be much more complex.

Sometimes, when manuals are written in foreign languages (particularly East Asian languages) and translated to English, things are somewhat less than intelligible. And hijinks ensue. We writers affectionately refer to such abominations as “Engrish” or perhaps “Chinglish” in the case of a certain well-known language.

The problem arises when the translation is done by machine “translators” (which are mostly little more than word substituters) or persons who are barely literate in English. Underneath that, the quality of the original manual in the foreign language may not have been particularly good. The result is often a very confusing (and sometimes highly amusing) set of instructions.

“The luxuring wireless remote controlling stretches out and draws back the door” (translation: “Deluxe Wireless Remote Controlled Retractable Gate”) may be hilarious, but it doesn’t exactly put across the right concept.

But what does one do about it?

That’s where competent tech writers come in. We can take the most garbled manual and turn it into a sparkling jewel of clarity and usefulness. A good tech writer has a “knack” for deciphering what the original-language writer was trying to say, however goofy the translation, and re-expressing it in English that can be understood.

- David