Technical writers gear up for conference

As businesses grapple with IT-based change and consumers grapple with new gadgets, good quality technical writing is becoming vital, according to a member of a national technical writers' body.

As businesses grapple with IT-based change and consumers grapple with new gadgets, good quality technical writing is becoming vital, according to a member of a national technical writers' body.

The New Zealand Technical Writers Association was formed three years ago as an informal group of five professionals. It now has more than 60 members and is gearing up for its second annual conference next month under the banner "Designs and Strategies for the 21st Century".

NZTWA's Rudi Huijsmans says changes in business procedures "generally require good technical or business writer to describe them. You have to explain to people how they're going to make use of it in the business - the conceptual information - and then explain the lower-level details of how they then should go about installing and implementing it and using it on a day-to-day basis.

"IT is one area where technical writing has come to the forefront, which makes it more visible to people. Good user guides for software and for certain types of technology, like cellphones, are really vital. It's all about learning, really - the transferring of knowledge."

Huijsmans, who is managing director of Noesis, a company that specialises in technical writing projects, says that in other countries, technical writing is acknowledged as a distinct profession and post-graduate degrees are available.

Although Auckland's Unitech and Christchurch Polytechnic have introduced technical writing papers, it has yet to be acknowledged to the same extent here.

"New Zealand is slowly undergoing a change from the situation where documentation is written by maybe one person in the organisation who is - I don't want to use the word 'sucker' - but, very often, not necessarily the person who understands structuring of information.

"The technical writer needs a thorough understanding of technology. And if you go into online publications you do need to know something about Javascripting, about programming. You need to understand how people learn and you need to be a darn good communicator."

The conference will be held on September 7 and 8 at Waipuna Lodge in Auckland and speakers from New Zealand and Australia will cover a range from topics, from writing for the Web and using XML to communicating effectively with technical engineers. Further details are available from the NZTWA Web site at www.nztechwriters.co.nz.

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