Technical Writers: Why STC Membership is Worth It

The Society of Technical Communication has been working with the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), since 2007 to update its definition of the technical communications profession. At long last, The Occupational Outlook and Handbook (OOH), published by the US Department of Labor’s BLS Web site in December 2009, has an individual report on technical writers. Through this classification, STC membership has provided the entire technical communications discipline a great service.

Though the Department of Labor turned down the Society’s request for a new classification, as “technical communication specialist,” the entry in the OOH states that technical writers are also known as “technical communicators.”

Many of the technical writer’s key qualifications and responsibilities (see below), including the technical writer’s communication skills and user focus, transfer especially well to a Web 2.0 world.

The Department of Labor’s forecast that technical writing job prospects are good, particularly for those with Web or multimedia experience, complements an emerging trend, known in content development circles as (note: link to pdf document follows) social technical communication, or convergence technical communication.

Significant Points about Technical Writers

Here are the significant points from the US Department of Labor’s description of technical writers:

  • Most jobs in this occupation require a college degree—preferably in communications, journalism, or English—but a degree in a technical subject may be useful.
  • Job prospects for most technical writing jobs are expected to be good, particularly for those with Web or multimedia experience.
  • Excellent communications skills, curiosity, and attention to detail are highly desired traits.

Excerpt about the Nature of Technical Writing Work

Here is an excerpt about the nature of technical writing work:

Technical writers, also called technical communicators, put technical information into easily understandable language. They work primarily in information-technology-related industries, coordinating the development and dissemination of technical content for a variety of users;
however, a growing number of technical communicators are using technical content to resolve
business communications problems in a diversifying number of industries. Included in their products are operating instructions, how-to manuals, assembly instructions, and other documentation needed for online help and by technical support staff, consumers, and other users within the company or industry. Technical writers also develop documentation for computer programs and set up communications systems with consumers to assess customer satisfaction and quality control matters. In addition, they commonly work in engineering, scientific, healthcare, and other areas in which highly specialized material needs to be explained to a diverse audience, often of laypersons.

Technical writers often work with engineers, scientists, computer specialists, and software developers to manage the flow of information among project workgroups during development and testing. They also may work with product liability specialists and customer service or call center managers to improve the quality of product support and end-user assistance. Technical writers also oversee the preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts. Technical writers increasingly are using a variety of multimedia formats to convey information in such a way that complex concepts can be understood easily by users of the information.

Applying their knowledge of the user of the product, technical writers may serve as part of a team conducting usability studies to help improve the design of a product that is in the prototype stage. Technical writers may conduct research on their topics through personal observation, library and Internet research, and discussions with technical specialists. They also are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter and establish their credibility with their colleagues.

Kudos to the The Society of Technical Communication for its work to gain official recognition for the technical writer’s diverse and timely skill set.

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