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WTD Podcast episode 26: Technical writing and Reddit, with Alan Bowman

by Tom Johnson on Dec 31, 2019 •
categories: technical-writingbeginners

In episode 26 of the Write the Docs podcast, we talk with Alan Bowman about the technical writing forum on Reddit as well as the WTD Slack channel, comparing and contrasting the two spaces. Topics covered include pros and cons of anonymity on the internet, transparency around sensitive or taboo topics (e.g., salary, masters programs, feelings of overwhelm), age/experience demographics for both communities, balancing honesty with professionalism, responding to posts from overwhelmed tech writers, dealing with recurring topics, strategies for participating, and more.

Episode details

You can view the episode on the Write the Docs Podcast site here or watch the video below.

Reddit versus Slack for discussions

If you want to engage in tech comm topics, there are a couple of popular places online: the Tech Writing Subreddit forum (on Reddit.com) and WTD Slack channel. What’s the difference between these two spaces?

In a nutshell, Reddit is anonymous, and the demographic tends to consist of younger, more new-to-the-field tech writers. The discussions are permanent and searchable. In contrast, WTD Slack isn’t anonymous, and the demographic tends to be more varied. Discussions are grouped into different subchannels, and the discussions disappear after 30 days.

The dichotomy between online spaces is interesting — would you rather create a throwaway account to post some sensitive/taboo topic, such as questions about your salary, manager or company, or feelings of frustration and overwhelm? The anonymity is what often gives rise to more authentic exchanges, though in some spaces online, anonymity can lead to irresponsible posting. Posts remain on Reddit forever.

In contrast, WTD Slack gives you more conversational fluidity with back-and-forth exchanges common with instant messaging applications. Participants can get more clarity and background around your questions, and you can have more detailed exchanges that build on each other. However, the conversations get removed every 30 days (due to the account type for WTD), so the archive isn’t permanent. In many ways, the ephemeral nature of these conversations helps people feel more open to engage and share, knowing that their words (though not anonymous) won’t be forever etched online forever.

Topics covered in the podcast

Topics we cover in the podcast include the following:

  • A space for taboo topics
  • Whether to use your real name or be anonymous
  • Why the forum seems to be dominated by newbies
  • What kinds of posts are unwelcome
  • Recurring posts (e.g., salary)
  • Posts that can be frustrating
  • Motivations to help people who are struggling
  • Transparency and authentic exchanges
  • Echo chamber syndrome
  • Online communities replacing physical communities

Sample sensitive topics

The following are some sample threads demonstrating the sensitive/taboo topics often discussed in the Reddit space:

I’m incredibly stressed out and anxious. I feel like I am underqualified for this job and I want to become better at it. (How did you develop the discipline to be a good tech writer?)

 

I’m totally losing steam, motivation, and any sort of work-life balance. As hard as I fight, my team sees my end deliverables and think what I do is easy, so they moved me to the marketing team and want me to start writing marketing materials too (completely out of my wheelhouse and …with what time?). Not only that, but forget about giving me additional resources. I’ve been suggesting that I really need more support but it seems like it’s falling on deaf ears - as long as I’m pumping out deliverables like a machine. What possibly can I do? (In over my head - service docs, user docs, and localization (requesting advice))

 

I’m not sure how any of this can really translate into technical writing, or what field. But I think it is an option for me to find something new to do and get me out of this rut that has left me feeling stuck, demotivated, and somewhat depressed. (Lost, and at wit’s end)

 

What kind of things encourage you to keep or extend your membership? If there was a perfect society for you out there, what would it offer? Or rather, what do you find lacking in existing professional organizations? (Opinions Regarding Technical Writing Societies Wanted)

 

I’m 35 in February. I have a bachelor’s in English as of this past January. I have only ever been a dishwasher… I feel like I’m destined to be a dishwasher forever, and it’s pretty depressing. Furthermore, it feels like I’m not going to be able to break into Technical Writing because I’m basically a dinosaur by tech standards, which is relevant because I want to get a job at a tech company and am learning Python towards that goal. (Am I too old to get a technical writing job?)

 

I’m struggling to figure out what a decent salary range would be for the position, however, for a few reasons: (1) This is a big, worldwide company, and most job listings I see online are for smaller companies, and I don’t know how this would affect prospective salary. (2) I’m an entry level technical writer, but the job isn’t advertised as entry level. Do I go for entry level salary or full salary, or somewhere in between? (Negotiating salary as entry level writer for non-entry level job at a big company)

 

I’ve been searching for months and months with no luck, most just end at the in-person interview, phone calls, or being ghosted by recruiters. Wondering if I’m just wasting my time because I feel disillusioned about this field. (Does this career have a future?)

 

How far behind the curve am I? How difficult is it to learn structured Frame? I have some pretty extensive HTML background, so I’m hoping that that experience crosses over into the XML realm. (FrameMaker, DITA, XML … I’m out of the loop!)

 

Hey guys due to skills which even I did not know I possessed, I was selected for the role of a tech writer at ZOHO with a decent salary. Before starting I had zero knowledge about this field and since it is going to be what my life is all about I figured I would spend some time and learn about it, and what better place to start than this subreddit (I got a job as a technical writer whats next for me)

 

I see some stuff online which says that $70,000 is average pay, and $50,000 is entry level. That seems too good to be true. Is that correct? Or, is it more realistic to expect a lower amount? (What are realistic salary expectations for technical writers?)

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