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© Ugur Akinci
You might perhaps be considering whether to become a technical writer or not. You might be wondering: “What kind of a job technical writing is exactly and what does the future hold?”
I can tell you right away that, at its most fundamental level, technical writing is safe and comfortable office work.
Technical writers (or, “technical communicators” to use a more recent term) spend a lot of time in front of their computers. You must certainly be computer- and technology-savvy for this job.
Technical writing is solitary work 80 to 90% of the time. Basically you create a document that describes a process, a product or a service. “Writing” more often than not includes formatting and design responsibilities as well which is great if you have any graphic abilities.
Those technical writers with any artistic leanings can easily add the title “Illustrator” to their job descriptions with a little time invested in such popular drawing and charting programs as Adobe Illustrator and Microsoft Visio.
But all this does not mean that technical writing is an “asocial” type of occupation. Far from it since you interact regularly with your other fellow writers (if any), engineers, and SMEs (Subject Matter Experts).
You depend on a lot of people for collecting information and you do it either in person, through the Internet and the email, or (usually) on the phone.
That’s why technical writing requires a certain level of “social engineering” skills as well, like interviewing SMEs and taking part in meetings. And that’s also why there are only a few “telecommuting” jobs in hi-tech technical writing. If your dream is to work in your pajamas from your bed, perhaps you should try something else.
Technical writing also requires an organized mind. You need to prepare excellent outlines before you set up writing your documents.
Then once the document is written, you again need to have the organizational skills to follow-up with your reviewers and see the process to its completion.
A Future Trend
A note about a future trend: within the next 10 years or so I expect the technical communication job market to split into two tiers characterized by skill levels:
1) Entry-level GUI-documentation jobs, and
2) XML-based procedural and structural documentation.
The former kind of jobs will continue to be outsourced to the lowest per-hour bidder. Sometimes these jobs will be snapped up straight through the online job-bidding Internet sites. The competition for these types of technical writing jobs will catch up with the current level of competition for entry-level copy writing jobs.
The demand for the latter group of writers will only increase. These well-trained and experienced communicators will make a career shift from “writers” to “communication consultants” and charge serious fees for their services. The demand for such upper-echelon “documentation engineers” will pick up once we get over the hump of the current economic crisis, and the “single-sourcing” and “localization” processes accelerate once again.
In this article we have just scratched the surface of what a technical writer is and does but one thing is for sure: technical writers and communicators will continue to play an important role in our global economy since almost every product and service you can think of needs documentation.