Surviving the Dying Career of Technical Writing
Published: March 21, 2016
The profession of technical writing is on the verge of obsolescence! If you are a technical writer, you need to open your eyes to this reality. The current industry trend shows that hiring managers are looking for people who can fill more than one critical role. With many programmers, quality-assurance testers, analysts, and consultants taking on technical writing, it will eventually become impossible to sustain a career solely as a technical writer without any hands-on technical or analytical experience.
To survive in the ever-changing IT industry, it is essential that technical writers keep honing their skills to avoid becoming dispensable. As the saying goes, it is never too late to learn something new. In this article, we’ll describe some of the proficiencies you should consider acquiring in addition to your technical writing skills.
Programmer and Technical Writer
With the emphasis on the customer-centric approach that is now prevalent, more companies have begun to expose their software code through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to enable the customization of their products. In some cases, customers pay additional charges to purchase and customize a product’s code. For customers to be able to tweak an application’s code to suit their organization’s needs, they require reference materials that enable them to understand the code. Thus, the companies providing APIs for their code must create references describing the code to which their customers can refer. If you have an interest in programming languages and writing code, learn about coding and start writing API documentation.
Having programming skills can enable you to write sample applications that demonstrate specific technologies or show how an API works, without your having to depend on developers. While your job might not require you to develop applications, you may occasionally need to write sample code to show how a particular piece of code works, research and understand the features or functions of an application or solution, and translate that knowledge into written documentation.
As a technical writer who has programming skills, you can develop API documentation to which your customers’ developers refer when customizing your product. You’ll be engaged in writing technical references, API guides, and documenting programming techniques, as well as writing sample code. While technical writers do not require programming skills to excel in their work, gaining such skills always gives you an edge over other writers.
Analyst and Technical Writer
If you are less than enthusiastic about learning programming, you can instead sharpen your analyst skills. As a technical writer, you already function as an analyst about 90% of the time. You gather requirements, then analyze and prioritize them. Sometimes, when you get the opportunity to use a product, you also point out necessary improvements and errors. As a technical writer who is also an analyst, you document or define business processes. You may also perform functional testing to ensure that the software satisfies all requirements. You should also be aware of ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) practices.
As an analyst, you must develop thorough knowledge about a product, be able to analyze current processes, propose changes that would improve usability and functionality, and review processes to ensure the correctness of their implementation in code. You may also be responsible for developing requirements documentation and coordinating requirements walkthroughs and signoffs, verifying with stakeholders that the information captured in the requirements accurately portrays their business needs. By enhancing your analytical skills, you can function as both a technical writer and an analyst.
Blogger and Technical Writer
The times are changing. The traditional ways of providing product information are taking a back seat to social media and blogging. Because social media influence customers’ buying patterns, more and more organizations are turning toward blogging. Blogging on social media or your company’s Web site has become a more effective way of advertising products and providing product information. Moreover, blogs are more interactive than traditional methods of marketing.
As a blogger, you’ll not only be responsible for writing the content, but must also have skills that enable you to manage blogging communities and requests for guest posts, as well as analyze Web-analytics data to gauge the content’s performance. Plus, you must become adept at search engine optimization, writing content in a way that it gets more pageviews. If you have a creative streak, this may be the perfect combination for you.
Instructional Designer and Technical Writer
Customers’ modes of learning are changing. Smartphones have completely changed the way in which people look up and consume information. Video training has become a more impactful means of communicating any kind of information. With the prevalence of mobile devices, it has become easier to view videos online. Videos save customers’ time, preventing their having to go through lengthy documentation.
As an instructional designer, you’ll create tutorials, training, and other documentation for a product. You might also create exercises and quizzes. To successfully develop training content, you must gain expertise in multimedia and learn to work with graphics. To create videos and graphics, you need to become proficient with video and graphic design tools such as Captivate and Photoshop. Then get ready to don multiple hats!
A recent study shows that salaries for technical writers have stabilized—and upward growth seems unlikely for some years to come. If you’ve worked on projects that involved outsourcing work or have worked as a contractor, you are well aware of the costs involved and how stable the market has become. Companies are looking for ways in which they can minimize documentation costs and reduce overhead.
However, documentation is often a legal requirement, so companies cannot do away with it. Nevertheless, they are looking at alternative methods of creating documentation. Initially, startups and smaller companies began engaging developers to create product documentation. Now, larger companies are adopting the same approach. In the past, when IT was booming, it made sense to hire separate writers and developers. Now, with IT stagnating and greater pressures on organizations to cut costs, the roles of developers, analysts, and technical writers are merging.
The software industry is broadening its training for technical writers and hiring people who have multiple skillsets. It is time now for you to move beyond your comfort zone and develop new skills to make yourself a much sought-after technical writer.
Langlois, Francis. “Should I Become a Programmer Writer?” Microsoft, January 25, 2010. Retrieved March 13, 2016.