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Ten Technical Writing Stereotypes

by Tom Johnson on Sep 28, 2008
categories: creativity technical-writing

As college students contemplate careers in technical writing, they often hesitate because of negative stereotypes about the profession. As with many stereotypes, these aspects of technical writing can describe some situations for some people, but as a whole they aren't necessarily true.

I've listed Ten Technical Writing Stereotypes -- tell me if the stereotypes hold generally true for you or not. You can take the survey here: Additionally, you can respond in the comments below this post.

Update: You can view the Survey Results here.

1. Technical writing is boring.

Technical writing is a generally boring activity, involving repetitive, structured writing that requires the same types of sentences over and over (click this, select that, choose this, press that). You spend a good part of your day yawning, editing the same lifeless instructional material while looking out your window and yearning for something more. True or False?

2. Technical writing stifles your creativity.

Because you spend all day immersed in writing instructional text, your own sense of creativity declines. You feel fewer flashes of inspiration and generally have less creative drive and desire. You even find yourself adopting the same techniques of writing short, clear, dry, humorless sentences in your email and journal. True or False?

3. You do a lot of writing as a technical writer.

Although your day is punctuated by a meeting here and there, you spend the majority of your day in writing mode -- writing how to use a particular product, or editing what you've written. After a full day at work, your fingerpads are often sore from so much typing! True or False?

4. You need a job in technical communication to get a job in technical communication.

Breaking into the field of technical communication is a Catch 22: You need a job in technical communication to get a job in technical communication. Sometimes a degree, certificate, or internship in technical writing can make up for a lack of job experience, but generally breaking into technical communication requires job experience in the same field, making it nearly impossible to get in. True or False?

5. Technical writers are second-class citizens in IT departments.

As a technical writer, you're generally treated poorly in IT departments -- ignored in meetings, put in your place when you speak up, avoided by subject matter experts, excluded from decision-making processes, and sometimes given demeaning secretarial tasks. True or False?

6. Technical writers feel as if they've sold out.

You once aspired to write a novel or go into publishing, but due to financial obstacles, you had to embrace technical writing to meet your monthly bills. You often feel as if you're expending your talents in the wrong direction. You've given up on your literary publishing dreams and have resorted to manual-writing as almost your exclusive writing activity. As a writer who once turned heads with your creative prose, you now feel as if you've sold out. True or False?

7. You can easily support a family with other writing careers outside of technical writing.

You could pursue a variety of careers in writing to support your family in a comfortable way. Whether working as an editor in a publishing house, a journalist at a newspaper, a staff writer for a magazine, a proofreader for a journal, a writing teacher at a university or high school, you can make enough to be the sole breadwinner of your family. True or False?

8. You have to know a lot of tools to break into technical communication.

To be a competitive applicant for a technical communication job, you need to know a plethora of tools -- RoboHelp, Flare, Framemaker, AuthorIt, InDesign, Visio, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Camtasia, Captivate, Word, and a handful of others. You also often have to be familiar with various technologies -- HTML, XML, DITA, Javascript, CSS, RSS, Java, and C++. The tool/technical knowledge for entry can be formidable. True or False?

9. Technical writers are introverted, isolated, boring geeks.

As a technical writer, you have a generally introverted personality. You keep to yourself most of the day, don't enjoy large social gatherings, and spend half your day practically mute. You work in your cube or designated area, typing away solemnly at your computer while others interact around you. You tend to have a lot of arcane, geeky knowledge about things no one else cares about. True or False?

10. Because IT technologies change so frequently, you have to spend large amounts of your spare time just keeping up with what's new.

Your workday ends at 5 p.m., but since the field of IT is moving so quickly, with new sites, applications, and technologies emerging almost daily, you have to spend a good chunk of your spare time at home just keeping up. At times you can feel as if you're drowning in new knowledge, barely keeping your head above water. You have little time for anything else. True or False?

Note: This article was originally published in the Sept 2008 (Fall) issue of the TechCraft newsletter.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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