Incensed at “Laid-back” Categorization of Technical Writing Career

I was completely incensed to read Yahoo’s categorization of technical writing as the #1 laid-back career. In 5 Low-Stress Career Options, the writer makes the ridiculous claim that technical writing isn’t just a low-stress job, but is apparently the #1 lowest-stress job of any career in America!

Laid-back Career #1: Technical Writer

Technical writers often write articles, manuals, and instruction booklets on a variety of topics, including science, technology, business, and medicine. If you’re passionate about the written word, you might be interested in a career as a technical writer.

Laid-back features: Technical writers, which ranked sixth on CNN Money and PayScale’s list of “10 least stressful jobs”, said they felt less daily deadline pressure because many of the assignments are long term. (Read more)

Apparently these findings come from interviews with 40,000 American workers! 40,000!!! I was about ready to throw something at my screen in disgust when I looked over at my tech writing colleague and saw this:

Ahhh, figures.

I’m kidding of course. I do agree that technical writing is a low-stress job, but it isn’t quite as low stress as some might imagine. Regardless, this is what my wife thinks I do at work all day. (By the way, I would love to see a “What I Actually Do” meme on this topic.)

Adobe RobohelpMadcap Flare

By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication, API documentation, information architecture, web publishing, JavaScript, front-end design, content strategy, Jekyll, and more. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

  • Mike
    • Tom Johnson

      Thanks Mike. I loved the graphic! It’s one of the better ones I’ve seen on tech writing.

  • Larry Kunz

    It seems like the author’s view of Tech Comm is at least 30 years out of date: We all work for big corporations on months-long projects where we just “pretty up” the words of the subject-matter experts. Even 30 years ago that was stereotype, not reality.

    In today’s world, many technical writers are contractors or freelancers, so there’s always the stress that’s involved with landing and retaining business. Then there’s collaboration, working on global teams, agile/scrum, and so on.

    It might not be as stressful as hazmat duty at the nuclear plant, but is sure isn’t laid back. (BTW, does anyone really say “laid back” any more?)

    • Tom Johnson

      Thanks Larry. I agree that the description is outdated. The job insecurity with landing and retaining business is tough to deal with. Still, it is quite interesting to be working in the #1 low-stress job in the U.S. Add to this one more element: I work for a non-profit that does not depend on profits or the bottom-line. We ship products that are always free. How about that. It’s no wonder I have so much patience when I finally go home at night to a houseful of kids.

  • Melanie Blank

    And….. to add to Larry’s comment, many of us are contractors, with no guarantee of continued employment (OK – so that doesn’t exist anywhere…………..), few or no benefits, etc. etc. As far as stress in the actual work is concerned, I think it varies a great deal, both from job to job, and within the same job. Usually I’ve found that there are tight deadlines. Not to mention the stress of trying to get input from certain SMEs and reviews of drafts from various people.

    • Tom Johnson

      Thanks for commenting, Melanie. Getting information from SMEs to meet tight deadlines can be stressful. But in comparison, operating on someone who is in a life or death situation might be even more stressful. I sometimes think the lack of stress with tech writing is what may contribute to the feeling that technical writing is boring. Maybe stress is necessary for interest.

  • Mark Baker

    Any time I get to thinking my job is stressful, I tune in to an episode of Ice Road Truckers and get over myself.

  • Vinish Garg

    I have realised that technical writers enjoy greater work satisfaction than many other jobs (specifically in IT).

    Most of the technical writers do it by choice; they develop documentation because they love it so much, and hence they *may appear least stressed* as compared to other profiles in IT.

    • Tom Johnson

      Interesting point. I hadn’t thought that our sense of laid-backness comes from feeling so much satisfaction. But perhaps!

  • Paul Proteus
    • Tom Johnson

      Thanks for sharing this, Paul.

  • Erin

    I recently left tech writing but I have to say that it’s low stress when the company appropriately plans for tech writing tasks. When it’s a last second release-is-on-the-line emergency situation, it’s not so awesome.

  • sesli chat

    The new Zune browser is surprisingly good, but not as good as the iPod’s. It works well, but isn’t as fast as Safari, and has a clunkier interface. If you occasionally plan on using the web browser that’s not an issue, but if you’re planning to browse the web alot from your PMP then the iPod’s larger screen and better browser may be important.

  • Caroline

    Not stressful… Perhaps they need to come see me when my SME is making no sense, the software crashes every five minutes and I am three weeks away from deadline.

    As a job satisfaction metric, yeah, we have it pretty good. Most folks who *choose* to be techwriters are super happy about working with words and designing docs every day.

    But I wouldn’t say its a perenially low-stress job. Its the same as any other job with deliverables and deadlines. I still ahve to work overtime, and I still tear my hair out every now and then.

    And whenever I get asked to use Word to create a document, my left eye twitches. A lot. :)