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Technical Writing by Mark Metcalfe, Publications Professional

To make a pun about an “elephant in the room,” one cannot discuss technical writing these days without involving India. It is a particularly touchy subject, especially for American writers, but I will hazard a few observations.

The quality of writing coming from India in the early days showed that it was in its early stages of development. Although, English-language-speaking Indians created a market for technical writers, much of the written content contained somewhat stilted language that a good technical editor could smooth out. When companies first started hiring technical writers in India, it cost a company between 20-25% of the cost of a writer in the US. The last I heard, the ratio was about 33-50% and that is applying pressures on companies to look elsewhere. This is particularly true of other job functions where use of the English language is not as critical (such as engineering and QA), and India is now feeling the pressure of less expensive costs elsewhere (China, Russia, and other Asian countries). China does not yet have a pool of English-ready writers, but English is being taught in grade school and it is only a matter of time for a technical writing market to open up in China. But I want this blog entry to focus on India because I can speak from experience.

In the early days, most projects that were assigned to Indian writers were mature projects that needed documentation maintenance; cutting-edge and new writing projects were trusted to the more experience writers in US-based offices. However, as the technical writing industry in India has matured, companies have found the economic savings involved too difficult to ignore.

So what is happening to the technical writing profession in the US? The good news is that it is not disappearing, but the bad news is obvious: there are fewer and fewer technical writing jobs available in the US with downward pressure on salaries.

What I hope American corporations will begin to recognize is that globalization need not equate to off-shoring, and that off-shoring is not the best way to create value. While it does cost more to have a distributed global workforce, there are definite benefits and value from having culturally diverse and geographically local employees.

When I became director of a global staff of writers, I obtained funding to bring the writing team together for a summit. I understand that sometimes these meetings are considered boondoggles, but not this one. There was a palpable change between the "before" and "after" dynamics of the team. Before, I had several centers of writing activity; after, we had a cohesive organization that collaborated on matters that concerned our craft and business. The writers from India were apprehensive about meeting their American counterparts, knowing that corporate economies applied pressure in their favor because of their lower cost structure. Coming eyeball-to-eyeball helped each to recognize colleagues - in a personal way - as talented professionals and not disconnected persons halfway around the world.

I have developed close friendships with several of my colleagues from India who are highly motivated and talented folks, earning a living at what they love to do – and I love working with them!

A global company needs a culturally diverse workforce to more effectively respond to the needs of their local customers. Further, the “cross-pollination” of culture and talent creates and broadens value that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Mark Metcalfe
www.linkedin.com/in/MarkMetcalfe

Posted on Friday, June 26, 2009 1:09 PM | Back to top


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