Not just a writer! From a content generator to something more

When the much-debated value of a technical writer’s contribution assumes centerstage, nothing says it better than the changing nature of the technical writing profession. Originally the “story-tellers” for the product at hand, writers today, are donning more hats than what they had before. Of course, with much aplomb!

The growing competitiveness of businesses translates to increased demands out of employees, and writers are no exception to this rule. Organizations constantly want more from their employees, and in doing so, are testing employee’s limits. Writers  feel the pressure too. Technical writing is evolving into something much larger, thereby doing away with the outmoded idea that writers are “content creators”.

Here are some added roles that writers are essaying with much ado. Some may come as a surprise.

Writers as programmers

Writing an effective block of code is without a doubt, a job best for the experts. That has not deterred writers from acknowledging this little ace up their sleeves. Software today is changing face. With the emergence of MVP (minimally viable product concept), more and more software offerings are now designed such that they respond to a standard set of functional expectations, with the possibility of “adding” to this list, if you have the skills to. What this means is, companies are building software, and then leaving it to their customers to customize the software so that it is best-suited to their needs. This is beginning to blur the boundaries between developer documentation, and end-user documentation, with end-users increasingly being programmers themselves. More and more documents now include code, as actuals and as examples. That is why it is important for us writers not to shy away from code; in fact, much of the code logic is at one end of the spectrum, discernable, and at the other, reproducible. Self-paced study, online universities offering coding courses, books and notes, and of course, help from your developer friend are some of the ways you can quell the angst around code blocks.

Can writers become programmers? Why not?

Writers as code-reference writers

API documents are nothing new. Much has gone into making the process simpler, such as API-generating tools. As codes become nimbler, and more “open”, the demand to make every code component self-explanatory becomes resoundingly high. Code methods, classes, parameters, events, metadata, and parameters are beginning to come under the writers’ purview. Writers often log on to the same versioning systems as developers and work at the heart of the code. Class descriptions, parameter types, or method calls – nothing is off-limits provided you have the keen eye and a general sense of kinship with the developers. How do you get started? Well, you either have to be lucky to get the coveted computer science degree, or you are naturally inquisitive. In either case, a thorough understanding of code semantics and syntax, together with the underlying logic is essential.

Writers as user experience experts

Technical writers translate thoughts, and this quality makes them integral to developing the functional maturity of products. When technical writers and UX designers team together, the result is often a product as seen from the eyes of end-users. Technical writers contribute in numerous ways – tooltips, error text, label names, or even workflow logic. It is not uncommon to have writers turn into full-time usability experts, underlying the very importance of the role they play, albeit in the shadows.

How can you start? Well, e-universities is the answer to everything today. You can also look for willing mentors within your organization. Start small but start on solid grounds. Great user experience was never achieved in a day!

Writers as web designers

A single peculiarity of technical writing is the diversity of the people who are a part of the writer’s fraternity. Erstwhile professors, literature enthusiasts, army veterans, and computer science zealots, you can find them all, and even some others in a typical writers’ team. What we bring to the table is skillsets that are almost unexpected, but can be put to great use. Writers are also beginning to turn into web designers, a skill that small to mid-sized companies find most valuable. For smaller-sized companies, the return on investment is of utmost value; it is after all, a one-person army building a website as well as writing documents.

What can you do to become an effective web designer? For one, you definitely need to have a strong interest in learning WordPress (or another tool) and writing and manipulating HTML code. Add to that, an artist’s eye that oversees a great web design.

This list is of course not comprehensive. There is always more that you can learn. Technical writing is evolving. Much like everything else.


IanJuly 6, 2018 at 8:55 amReply

Great article – it’s more important than ever that technical writers be flexible and multi-skilled, especially in small to mid-sized companies. Two additional roles that technical writers can often support are testing (QA) and business analysis. Their functional expertise positions them to perform black-box testing and business requirements capture and clarification.

Amruta PhansalkerJuly 6, 2018 at 3:40 pmReply

Those are good additions Ian. I missed them. 🙂 I wholly agree with you; in fact, I recently learned of a fellow technical writer who switched roles and is now dabbling in testing.