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My Comments on "Best Careers 2011: Technical Writer - US News and World Report"

by Tom Johnson on Dec 10, 2010
categories: technical-writing

US News and World Report Article on 50 Best CareersIf you haven't seen it yet, check out Best Careers 2011: Technical Writer - US News and World Report.

It doesn't amaze me that technical writer is listed in the top 50 careers. Technical writer appeared as a top 50 career in 2006 and 2009 in CNN Money. Each year there's a lot of controversy about the description, but this year, some things are especially intriguing.

US News and World Report says as a technical writer, "you'd work with computers and electronic publishing software, including graphic design, page layout, and multimedia software." The writer then says,

Future employment for technical writers looks bright, especially for those with strong Web and multimedia skills, according to estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Compare the emphasis on web, graphic design, and multimedia skills with trends about structured authoring, XML/DITA, content re-use, and single sourcing, which aren't mentioned. Why the discrepancy? Internal to the tech comm field, you might think the main trends are the latter. External, it's the former.

There's also no mention of wikis, community, content curation, or user-generated content, even though "Curator" (as in museum curator) is one of the other top jobs in the "Creative and Service" grouping.

Let's stop and examine that "Creative and Service" grouping for a minute. The article says,

Our picks in the creative and service category this year:

Commercial pilot


Film and video editor

Gaming manager

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration technician


Multimedia artist

Technical writer

If there were ever a what-the-heck moment, here it is. Why are creative and service jobs lumped together? Ask someone what a pilot, curator, heating/AC technician, translator, and technical writer have in common, and I guarantee that you'll stump the person.

Here's another interesting idea. The article about the grouping begins,

Not everyone wants to work behind a desk. Lucky, then, that some of the best opportunities don't require you to sit in the office all day.

Funny, I find that this statement defines the opposite of my job. The less I move, the more productive I am.

Another interesting section of the article addresses the stress factor. In a previous CNN best careers article, technical writing was named one of the top 5 least stressful jobs in the US. Now we read,

Stress level: Moderate to high. Expect to work early mornings, late nights, and weekends to meet deadlines or coordinate with clients in different time zones. These deadline pressures and work hours can often lead to stress, fatigue, and even burnout. Extended time spent in front of computers can lead to eyestrain and back pain.

How do we jump from one of the least stressful jobs to "moderator to high stress"?

My favorite part of the article appears near the end:

Real advice from real people about landing a job as a technical writer:

Until now, reader, you've been reading fake advice from fake people. In this section, you get to hear some real content.

Despite the shortcomings of the article, I like the attention on web, multimedia, and graphics. This reinforces my specialization in web (WordPress and Mediawiki), screencasts, and visual graphics. It's not that structured authoring isn't important, but in the eyes of the user, maybe not so much.

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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