I want to tell you about a career path that averages $78k in salary, requires no degree, can frequently be done from home, and for which thousands of open job postings can be found.
But first, let me set the stage. Have you noticed how little information comes with most of your new tools and gadgets?
More often than not, you open the box and then hunt for the accordion-folded page with the same three steps written six times in different languages. Sadly, the side that’s written in English seems to have been Google-translated, leaving you to wonder how to “fate the knob” into the “slute.”
You can blame globalization for these slaughtered instructions, but I don’t think the translations are the issue. Sometimes whatever instructions the company does provide are in perfect English – they just don’t make sense.
I’m thinking of my home thermostat that needed replacing last fall. A service tech came out from the HVAC company, determined this digital model was kaput but that he could replace it. Off he went and back he came — with a new thermostat that would now consume his entire day and that of his supervisor. The problem? The instructions. Although they were both trained HVAC professionals, neither of these techs was familiar with this particular thermostat and neither of them could understand the instructions that came with the product.
This could seem like a one-off, but you know it’s not. Users’ manuals of all stripes have disappeared entirely, or have been relegated to online FAQ sites run by bots. Why is this happening? It could be that companies don’t have the people they need to create usable instructions.
And this is where you come in, at least if you’re interested in making a good living while contributing to the mental health of product users everywhere. You, yes you, might be perfect for work as a technical writer.
Skeptical? You may think this is not for you, but perhaps you don’t know what tech writers actually do.
For a number of years, I taught a course on how to work as a professional, but not freelance, writer. That is, how to get a job on staff where writing would be the primary responsibility. Tucked in between the units for journalism and public relations and advertising was the technical writing section — the one that practically none of my adult students expressed interest in before the session, but in which many declared an interest afterwards.
The problem is partly one of image. Technical? Writing? If I’m a writer, what do I know from technical? It helped to explain that technical writing isn’t about writing technically; nor does it mean that the subject matter is necessarily technical in nature.
Rather, technical writing is about producing information in a clear and straightforward way, which is meant to inform or instruct but never to persuade. Further, technical writing is used in every industry, from health care delivery to recipe creation to corporate training to manufacturing.
What’s really fun about technical writing is that sometimes it isn’t writing at all. Many use the term “technical communications,” since the work can encompass a broad range of media, including video, audio, drawings, graphics, gaming, and virtual reality.
Are you interested yet? In updating my knowledge for this column, I came across a web page that could be helpful: https://www.careerwatch.co/blog/technical-writer.
Stephen Hack, the author of this page (and the overall CareerWatch site), pulled together several points that I found interesting: Salaries, including the average and the range; numbers of people currently in the profession as compared to the number of job openings listed; education levels of technical writers; and job growth predictions, among others.
While much of this information comes from government sources and is repeated elsewhere online, Hack has added something extra to his analysis. Using his training in assessment tools, he includes a section on how this occupation fits for different personality types. If you take a look, you might be surprised.
One more online resource for you is the Society for Technical Communication. And, because I really do like instructions and manuals, I can recommend the printed book, Technical Writing for Dummies, which I happen to own. Just saying.
Will technical writing be your next career? If you’re interested but not certain of your skills, there are a number of certificate and degree programs available that can bring you up to speed. Peruse the course lists, talk to others in the field, maybe try an online exercise or two. The world needs you, so give it some thought.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at email@example.com.