Friday, September 04, 2009


As an avid quizzer, I have been participating and conducting quizzes for more than twenty years. I always consider it a challenge to conduct quizzes, and have a wonderful team of Rajaram and Sundar to take up the challenge jointly. But, though a challenge, I really sweat at the thought of conducting quizzes for young kids—particularly in the 5–12 years age group. It is just in the mind, or is it? It requires a lot of, as they say, dumbing down—trying to get down more than a notch in our thought process, framing questions to what we think will challenge the kids just that much.

When somebody broached the subject of technical writing—yes, the work of documentation and writing user manuals and the like—I seemed to take it very easy. Have I not been writing for publications such as The Economic Times, The Hindu and other well-known publications for years now?

I took up the challenge and how! The friend asked me to write a simple instruction booklet on “How to make a Paper Boat,” and I just brushed it off and got started.

“Take a piece of paper and fold it into four. Now hold one flap and fold it to form a triangle. Hold the other three flaps …,” so I went and completed it in a few minutes. Imagine the shock of my life when the friend asked the following questions:

  • Can I take any shape of paper? A round or a triangle?
  • Where to hold the flap and how to fold?
  • If the paper is rectangle in shape, how do I make it square?
  • and many more …
He also patiently explained that I had to come down quite a few notches to make things comprehensible for the average reader of instructional material. That was really difficult. Try as I may, there was always a question or two that the friend asked me in my multiple attempts to write a simple manual to make a paper boat!

That was also when I decided to do something about this—I joined a course and learned a lot of new things about dumbing down my writing. The course could have been much better, but there’s still the project that has to be done.

What I learned has helped me a lot, and I still go through the material whenever I find time. There are a few things about technical writing that I have resolved not to forget—the target audience is of utmost importance; the instructions should be easy to understand; break down the complexities into small tasks and then go about writing sub-units for these small tasks; and many more.

It is no longer daunting, say, if someone were to come up to me and ask me to write an instructional piece on how to make a paper kite, or how to reserve a train ticket at the counter. What might still be daunting, though, is to conduct a quiz for eight-year old children!


Blogger rajaram said...

this made me to remember a 'magnum opus' written by our own Ra. Ki.Rangarajan - who still lives in Ayanavaram. Rangarajan, who was part of 'Arasu' badhilgal in Kumudham, is a veteran journalist...he wrote 'eppadi kadhai ezhuduvadhu'. it is considered as a wonderful manual for beginners...he wrote the same thing as what you had mentioned...keeping the readers in mind, breaking every possible complex sentences into a simple one etc....guess, writing stories, is as hard or as easy as writing a simple manual....
perhaps, you may start reading english/tamil short stories to pick up some more tricks....
to start with, let me bring back the sujatha's collection of short stories from here...


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