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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.

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