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Question: If you weren't a technical writer, what would you be?

by Tom Johnson on Oct 2, 2015
categories: beginners

My alternative to doing technical writing would be to do web design. I'd also like to use my creative talents to finish an API documentation course, among other efforts.

A reader asks,

If you weren’t a technical writer, what would you be? Also, is there anything you’d still like to accomplish and experience professionally?

If I weren’t a technical writer, I would be a web designer. I love the web and how it has revolutionized and empowered the masses to publish content, interact with each other, find information, build networks, and cross boundaries. I worked as a WordPress consultant on the side of my regular job as a technical writer for about 5 years, before becoming too busy for it. Lately I’ve put WordPress on the backburner while I focus on Jekyll right now, developing the Jekyll theme here.

I like having the freedom and capability to control both the authoring and publishing process. However, I currently don’t have the expertise to do professional web design. I’m just an amateur hack who takes different pieces of code (such as from Bootstrap) and cobbles them together. If I wanted to be a professional, I’d have to dedicate a lot of time to learning and mastering these technologies.

Technical writers are really jacks of all trades, masters of none. As a result, I know a little about many different technologies. I can build you an output using WordPress, Jekyll, Drupal, Joomla, Swagger, RAML, API Blueprint, MadCap Flare, Adobe Robohelp, Author-it, Confluence, Mediawiki,, OxygenXML, and probably quite a few more. That’s the nature of technical writing. You’re a generalist.

As for what I’d like to accomplish and experience professionally, that is a tough question. My greatest strength is my creativity. I like to think creatively about topics that are relevant to me. But I feel I don’t often use my creativity, and my talent lies dormant.

On a more practical level, I would like to use my creative skills to finish the course on API documentation that I started. Although I have a lot of content, I’m only about half way there. I need to layer it with stronger conceptual content, visuals, and not get so sidetracked into specific technologies. I want to record videos with the content (including green screens, teleprompters, and illustrations), and I want to deliver it in an engaging way.

I would also like to help my wife find more professional fulfillment. She’s spent the last decade being a stay-at-home mom for our four kids, and now she’s re-entered the workforce as an admin assistant at Stanford. I’d really like to see her get a masters degree in a field she enjoys and find a job doing something that engages her.

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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