A “Technical Writer” Wears Many Hats

Theresa Munanga
Jun 21, 2017 · 3 min read

There was a time in my career when I was happy just being a technical writer. I became one after working as a developer because I enjoyed translating complicated technical concepts to easier, more appropriate steps for end users. Because I was having fun, I didn’t want to believe the “experts” who were saying that the technical communication field was evolving and that we couldn’t afford to just be technical writers anymore.

But as time went on and I grew as a technical writer, I realized that I actually do wear several hats in my positions as “technical writer.” My current title is Technical Communication Team Lead and while essentially I am still a technical writer, I also perform many other jobs. In no particular order, on a daily basis I am a:

  • Technical writer and editor
  • Documentation portal manager
  • Blog writer
  • Supervisor / team lead
  • Adobe RoboHelp guru (MadCap Flare, Microsoft Office, and other Adobe products as well)
  • Video creator and editor (including voice and music editing)
  • Website creator and manager
  • Developer (computer programmer)
  • Learning Management System (LMS) backend administrator and course creator
  • User advocate
  • Internal (employee) trainer
  • Company-wide technical communication advisor

My past experiences gave me the skills I need for each of these jobs. For example, my hobbies and previous jobs as a developer, website creator, Peace Corps Volunteer, and IT Specialist taught me how to create and manage documentation portals, intranets, websites, and Learning Management Systems (LMSs). Programming skills also helped me add unique features to our HTML output help such as voice recognition. And my ability to create LMS and computer-based training courses, to speak up as a team lead and user advocate, and to be an overall technical communication advisor also came from my Peace Corps Volunteer experience.

Everyone has skills that they bring to a job — and skills they learn on the job — even if their job title is just one thing or another. The point is that in order to grow and mature in today’s world, we can’t remain static. A technical writer is no longer just a technical writer. What used to be a technical writer is now a technical communicator, using all digital (and other) means possible to get their messages across to others. We not only communicate technical concepts about our products to our users, we are also responsible for communicating technical concepts between our products and our users.

We are now UI design editors, field and button editors, error and warning message writers, and more. We attend meetings to help developers, QA people, and scrum masters understand language, spelling, and punctuation concepts before (and after) they portray them in the application. We edit the marketing and proposal materials for our non-technical departments. We create and edit videos for both training and marketing purposes. And we help out in many other ways that typical, old-fashioned technical writers never could.

Technology is always evolving. From the Internet of Things to digitized clothing, virtual and assisted reality, and the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb, etc.), the future of technical communication needs technical communicators. Soon, the term technical writer itself might evolve to mean the person who writes the words that the technology (i.e., software) communicates (speaks) to the end user. Instead of writing words to teach end users how to use software applications, technical writers will write the words that the software says to the end user, both while using the application and when offering help to the user.

In any case, whether an employee is called a technical writer or something else, you can bet there are actually more titles involved in the job. If you are a technical communicator wanting to evolve along with technology, you might want to start a list of which hats you wear now…and which ones you want to wear in the future.

Watch for future blog posts about innovative technical communication ideas!

Theresa Munanga

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