“All I’m Going to Do is Edit Telephone Books” and Other Lies About Technical Communication

Technical writing, otherwise known as technical communication, is often seen as a career where you need to be the smartest of the smart and only available to a few people. I hope to dispel this myth, as well as a few others. The most important part of being a technical writer is: being a good communicator.

Myth titles borrowed from Technical Writing Is Boring, and 5 Other Misconceptions About This $100K Career. Content is my own.

1. “Technical writers only write about highly technical, scientific, technological, medical, or systematic topics.”

  • Not always. Technical writing includes more than just writing about highly technical, involved, and complicated topics. At its simplest, in its essence, technical writing is breaking down and/or creating content to communicate ideas to your audience. That audience could be technical personnel (such as engineers) or could easily be non-technical (such as end-users or customers).

2. “Technical writing is boring and lacks creativity.”

  • Technical writing is more than just “writing,” it’s a profession often referred to now-a-days as technical “communication.” The professional organization for technical writers is even called the “Society for Technical Communication.” Individuals with the skills of a technical writer/communicator can also hold various other positions to include: content manager, information architect, instructional designer, usability specialist, corporate blogger and many others.
  • Technical writers also create content other than just highly technical written documents. This includes multimedia content such as videos/screencasts, podcasts, Web pages (using HTML, CSS), blogs, illustrations (ex. Visio diagrams, flash files, etc.), and e-Learning content, in addition to text based content such as aides, guides, and help documents. You can even have a combination! A blog that I’ve recently become a fan of is I’d Rather Be Writing by Tom Johnson, a technical writing by profession, currently focusing on developer documentation. In his free time, he manages his own blog/Web site, where he often uses podcasts to describe different facets or ideas in the technical writing profession. I eagerly encourage you to review his podcast (and accompanying presentation) for his Debunking the Boredom Myth of Technical Writing post.

3. “Technical writers are not paid well.”

  • Not only is technical writing a career where you can make a nice living, it is a career with growing opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, technical writers have median annual salary of $65,500. This is a great salary, especially considering the median pay for all professions is $34,750. Additionally, this occupation is expected to grow 15% between 2012 and 2022. A rate higher than the average growth rate for all occupations (11%).

4. “Technical writers need a technical background.”

  • As discussed in the first myth, your audience could be technical personnel (i.e. engineers) or non-technical (i.e. end-users or customers). Sometimes, with more technical audiences, you may need a technical background. However, the most important things are being good at audience analysis and information architecture, though it is rare you will need to have Ph.D. in rocket science. Just look at the description of a few technical writing positions on Indeed.com, they do not all require you to have a degree in some technical field.

The examples above are examples of different possibilities in the technical writing/communication field. In the off chance that you somehow (someway) end up editing telephone books or some other equally boring job, there are plenty of other things you can do. You can use your design skills in Web development, show off your presentation or discussion skills with a podcast, flex your creative muscles by creating illustrations, or combine everything to create e-Learning content. The possibilities are seemingly limitless!