This Article is About
technical writing
defense contracts
public consumption
time companies
freelance writers
writing skills
several factors
Is The Technical Writing Profession Making A Comeback?
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In the more specialized areas of technical writing, the field has remained fairly solid according to the information out there for public consumption. These fields involve a specialized combination of writing skills and skills in the discipline in which the technical writer will create documentation. Such fields involve the requirement of writing documentation related to such things as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, scientific process, and aeronautics and space. Defense tends to continue to have a strong need, however, as an outcome of the stringent documentation requirements contractually written into most defense contracts.

In contrast to this, technical writing work related to things like computer-related documentation saw a dwindling of demand starting around 1998 or so. Several factors contributed to this change: companies began to view good in-house documentation departments (or even a single technical writer) as a cost versus a revenue-producing activity. Although at one time companies had learned that a good, audience-oriented user manual actually increased sales, in the early days of the technical writing profession many in-house writers wrote poor manuals. As a result, a cottage industry sprung up where independent, freelance writers wrote more effective manuals for many popular softwares: the “Dummies” and “Idiot’s” guides exemplifying the most successful such efforts. These guides eventually became the consumer choice over the software producer’s in-house guide in many instances.

Related to the development of the perspective of technical writing as a cost versus a revenue producer, was the general shift of corporate perspectives on a nationwide basis to outsourcing what technical writing work the companies continued to contract for to offshore writers such as those readily available at lower cost in India.

The era of the so-called “'dot com' boom” created a good deal of technical writing opportunity. This fairly early age of the fully functional Internet, as one example, invoked many concerns involving computer security issues.

Related to that, the concerns in the late 1990s about computer internal clock settings, known as the “Y2K scare” provided some opportunities for technical writers working on security and back-up plan documents related to this issue.

Both the effects of “'dot com' boom”and the Y2K scare had gone by the boards by mid-2001, however: resulting in the loss of work for technical writers working in those areas.

A business writer I know indicated finding evidence in this research that the domestic technical writing market shows signs of bouncing back. This may or may not represent an accurate perception on the nature of this market.

If it does represent an accurate perception, however, then freelance writers may want to consider actions they might take to better position them for obtaining technical writing work: which has much more stringent requirements as to the level of the writing than does web content work. For that matter, technical writing demands a level of stringency in the quality of the writing that even writing such as copywriting does not require.

If you are interested in preparing yourself for the possibility that this kind of writing work will experience a resurgence for writers based within the United States, then you need to start in the same way you would preparing for any type of work you have no background in. By researching the nature of the work in a more comprehensive way than you will find in a brief web content article.

I would not recommend a course, at this time, unless it is an inexpensive one since the future of the profession remains unclear.

However, you can start by doing some online and library research. You might also see if you can contact a technical writer to interview for information: even a former technical writer. You might also try to discuss the field in that way with one of the courses come colleges still offer if you can find one near you or if you can arrange for an interview remotely by telephone or instant messaging.

There is no guarantee of a resurgence of this realm of business writing, but it is one more area you can consider in your freelancing to learn about and have the potential to position yourself if the field does indeed bounce back.


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