Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its ‘Jobs Outlook’ for technical writers and let’s just say – it looks bright.
Job growth for technical writers is expected to outpace the national average
Due to predicted growth in the high tech and electronics industries the value of technical communication skills will no doubt rise. In fact, The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for technical communicators will grow 4% faster than demand for media and communication workers.
“Employment of technical writers is expected to grow 17 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Employment growth will be driven by the continuing expansion of scientific and technical products and by growth in Web-based product support.
Growth and change in the high-technology and electronics industries will result in a greater need for those who can write instruction manuals and communicate information clearly to users.
Professional, scientific, and technical services firms will continue to grow rapidly and should be a good source of new jobs even as the occupation finds acceptance in a broader range of industries, including data processing, hosting, and related services.”
See the complete report at :http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Media-and-Communication/Technical-writers.htm#tab-1
Unless you work for a technical communications boutique that specializes in providing technical information solutions to other companies, there’s a decent chance that your boss’s boss doesn’t really understand what you do.
I think that tech writers in most companies are kind of like the IT guy at the dentist’s office: the rest of the folks are smart and capable, but their expertise doesn’t even overlap. The dentists and dental hygienists think IT is probably necessary, but they’re content to just trust the IT guy to take care of it so long as nothing goes wrong.
Some technical writers like it this way. When people are willing to just let you take care of things, they just take your word for what needs to be done and don’t bug you. Plus, there’s the more nefarious notion that keeping your job and job skills a secret gives you job security because no one else will know how to do what you do.
But that only works for as long as people think that what you produce is necessary, which isn’t going to be as long if they don’t understand your contribution. Besides, when people don’t understand what you do, they can’t imagine new and creative ways to utilize your skills. If you can’t capture your boss’s boss’s imagination with all the cool things you have to offer the organization, then opportunities for exciting new projects can be few and far between.
I say it’s better for your career and esteem not to hoard your tech comm knowledge. Instead, you should share your knowledge freely so that people can have a deeper appreciation for why what you do is so difficult and special and ultimately beneficial to everyone. Here are some methods I use to try to make people around me understand the product documentation effort:
#1 – Internal marketing
Well this one’s obvious: if you want people to know what you do, tell them. We are, after all, professional communicators. This ought to be right up our alley.
Speaking for myself, I try to use lots of interesting channels to make people aware of what’s going on in the Doc team. Read more…
Many people want to be good writers. It is a central skill because so much of our communication is done through written channels. Everything from technical documents to emails to tweets requires writing.
Unfortunately, some regard writing as an almost mystical process where inspiration flows from your soul onto the paper where it emerges whole, perfect, and sacred. Thinking about writing this way is convenient, because then your crappy writing is the muse’s fault. But it’s more effective to realize that good writing is rarely beautiful at first. Writing is more like making a sculpture out of clay: you start with a big pile of mucky dirt (the first draft) that you have to mash all around (in a text editor) to get it to look like what you want it to look like.
Like the sculptor, the writer must master the tools—-in this case, words. But mastering words is more abstract than mastering sculpting tools, leading some people to think that mastering words must be an in-born talent that can’t be otherwise learned.
Effective use of words can be learned, though, if the aspiring writer is dedicated, disciplined, and willing to make a whole lot of ugly sculptures en route to making a beautiful one. The fact that you created many unrecognizable blobs when learning the medium might not be romantic, but it doesn’t detract from the artfulness of your eventual works of art.
Skill #1: reducing word count
You know the goal of good technical communication is to make the user successful with your product, and your higher-ups probably know that too. But “making the user successful” is hard to measure, and execs like numbers, so chances are, they’re going to be impressed by your page count. Read more…
If you’re like me, you can’t hire as many people as you need to do the work. But I’ve just had a writer take another opportunity, and now I have to back fill for him. The good news is there are lots of qualified writers out there right now. The bad news is there are also a lot of people applying for just anything. It can be make the hiring situation kind of overwhelming, but I have some tips that I, unfortunately, learned the hard way.
Tip #1: Recognize your job is hard
The biggest mistake I made in my first couple hires was to think that my job was standard fare that anyone could handle. I felt like I was being overdramatic to spend too much time vetting the candidates, when it seemed like it just couldn’t be that hard. Anyone would do.
The tricky thing here is that technical communicators have a very wide variety of skills and a broad spectrum of capabilities. A person can have the title “Technical Writer” and have it mean anything from “I know the source code inside and out, help customers directly with technical issues, and consult with the product manager on the direction and design of the product” to “I get a rough draft from an SME and add page breaks in the right places.” Read more…
One of our own, Corey Ganser, presented “Who Cares about Your Content?” at LavaCon this year. An interview with Corey was recently published on TechWhirl. In it, he stresses the steps content strategists and technical communicators must take in order to prove their worth and get the recognition they deserve. Here’s an excerpt from Corey’s TechWhirl interview: “Building the Business Case for Technical Communicators by Leveraging Talent, Skills and Passion”
Use Analytic Data of Content to Prove your Worth
Demonstrating value is crucial in the field of technical documentation. Corey suggests Tech communicators push project managers to include a content plan alongside their technology plan, financial plan, and product development plan… Backed by the data, “technical communicators can sit at the big table with the managers,” Corey says, and prove themselves as valuable resources for the company. As a result, a technical communicator can quantify the value of wearing multiple hats, and demonstrate how that their time, money, and energy are effectively being spent to benefit the company’s bottom line.
Corey continued by recommending that technical communicators prove their value to the company in various aspects. “People need to re-define their contribution to a company as a technical communicator. For example [technical communicators] often get caught up with buzzwords and instead need to think strategically as a content strategist about how users can interact with the company who produces the product.”
Documentation Should Help, Not Function as an Afterthought
In our interview, Corey focused on how documentation is often perceived as an afterthought. Read more…
Recently I read a discussion thread at a LinkedIn Tech Comm group in which Aaron, my CEO, claimed MindTouch didn’t support single sourcing. He was promptly contradicted by a MindTouch customer, Amanda Cross of ExactTarget, and prominent Tech Comm leader who just kicked off a guest blog series here at the MindTouch blog. Later on another MindTouch customer from EMC echoed Amanda’s call that they too use MindTouch for single sourcing.