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Technical Writer Ranks #5 in Least Stressful Jobs; Also, CNN Money Total Jobs Count Screwy

Oct 11, 2009 • general

CNN Money.com said technical writing is the #28 best job in the U.S., with an average salary of $67k and a projected job growth rate of 20% over ten years. Best is determined by "great pay and superior growth prospects. Work that's meaningful."

Interestingly, 56.4% of technical writers say their job is "low-stress," which makes technical writing the fifth least stressful job in the U.S. Software developers are slightly more mellow, with 59% saying their job is low stress.

Technical writers are among the least stressed out, apparently
Technical writers are among the least stressed out, apparently

In 2006, CNN Money ranked technical writing as #13 best job with an average salary of  $57k and 23% job growth. The job growth has dropped 3% but the salary shot up 10k. Somehow this made tech writing fall in their best job rankings from 13 to 28.

Compare CNN Money's salary findings of $67k a year with the 2008 STC Salary Database report, which estimated $61,620 a year (about 5k less). The salary estimates seem to be on target. However, when you look at the total jobs, the CNN Money report falls apart.

The STC Salary Database found that "U.S. businesses employed 47,460 technical writers." In 2006, CNN Money said there were only 50,354 technical writing jobs, and they estimated 62,000 by 2014. However, the 2009 CNN Money survey reports that there are 84,000 total jobs. They define the total jobs as the "estimated number of people working in each specific job" (which seems a normal definition).

Something is screwy here. How is it that CNN Money's estimate of technical writer jobs is 30,000 more than their 2006 estimate and the 2008 STC Salary Database?

Maybe they defined technical writing differently?

In 2006, they defined technical writing as

Write technical materials, such as equipment manuals, appendices, or operating and maintenance instructions. May assist in layout work.

In 2009, they defined technical writing as

Write technical materials, such as equipment manuals, online help documentation, operating directions and maintenance instructions.

Not much difference here except for the addition of online help.

Maybe the data is corrupt. The footnote for the data source says, "All pay data from PayScale.com." If you go to Payscale.com, you'll discover that to learn any information of value, you have to register for an account and walk through a semi-long wizard of questions. My guess is that people lose their password or register multiple times at Payscale.com, creating redundancies that would throw the number of technical writer jobs askew.

But if CNN Money's total jobs numbers are off, how can they possibly calculate job growth? Don't they correlate their numbers with 2006 data? And if the job growth is based on incorrect information, and job growth is a factor in the "best jobs," how can they determine the best job? In fact, why isn't the job growth calculated astronomically here? The change from 50,000 in 2006 to 80,000 in 2009 indicates a more than 50% job growth increase. Is this just a typo? CNN Money needs to address this discrepancy if their surveys are to have any credibility.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.