Am I Really a Technical Writer?

This is part two of an article that started on LinkedIN, “Review It: ‘Real’ Technical Writing?” (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/review-real-technical-writing-shauna-mcgee-kinney). I’m caught between marketing and my career identity. Help me answer, “Am I really a technical writer?”

I’m asking my fellow technical writers and my clients who hire technical writers to help define what they expect. Tina M. Kister got me thinking when she said,

“… I identify as a technical communicator because I love the fundamental principles behind technical communication, which include creating documentation that can be USED for something. …”

What I’m Doing is Not Tech Writing?

Recently, I read a couple good articles questioning whether I should perform tasks outside of tech writing. I’ve been working with small to mid-size businesses. When I work for smaller projects, am I really a technical writer or more of a website help desk? Sometimes my tech writing work morphs into non-tech writing support-tasks. These tasks can take up 90%-100% of my billable time and past work has included:

  • Updating the document control data (research & data entry) beyond the documents I have worked on
  • Running IT change control management meetings while the P&P that I documented is in an internal audit
  • Working on the clients’ website with edits or writing marketing copy because I know their business after editing their end-user training & help files
  • Editing a client’s online store inventory so the data is in the correct fields and unique after I document how the business uses their customized store
Bridge near Oksu train station in Seoul

Conflict Between Tasks & Identity

David L. Peterson spelled out the differences between earning income and building experience when he said,

“Best place to gain experience writing is for yourself. Once you have been in that position, your other writing benefits from the experience. In the past, all my writing was associated with other work I wanted to do. No one to say no. Once you have done that to make your own work shine, you have a lot to offer. My work is still doing things for myself, like publishing technical articles and writing proposals for causes I am passionate about, but it gave me what I needed to earn bread by writing, which is an entirely different thing. …”

Lessons Learned or Habits Repeated?

I’m at an age where I look back at my career and begin to wonder if I am learning (and applying) lessons learned. Or, am I repeating old habits.

In 1992 my career found me while I was studying Architecture at USC. My evening and weekend job was to set up people’s home computers and teach people how to use their software. By the time I was up for my Architecture thesis preparation and thesis, I was making more money in computer training than I would make if I finished my degree. Between 1992 and 1994 I worked part-time for myself and part-time as a temp as my business got started.

Looking eastward down the Han River in Seoul

Once again I find myself doing useful work that is mostly writing and software, but not work that fits the traditional definition of technical writer. Have I learned to read my clients’ needs and delivery the services that support my tech writing? Or, have I allowed my career to veer down a different, easier path?

What Do You Call the Person You Need?

What do clients look for when they are searching for my service? I’m finding that my clients need a person to:

  1. Draft a set of terms & conditions based on the business’s procedures
  2. Update a website or the data on a website to fit how the software runs
  3. Connect a client to a consultant or subcontractor for specialty work
  4. Network a client with potential customers (yes, I do business development)
  5. Write blog and marketing copy combined with social media text
  6. Research and summarize competitors & similar markets

The introspective side of me wonders if I am misusing the title technical writer. The sincere side of me wants to deliver fair quality across all these diverse services. In the past, I used to write the training manuals, the help files, and the procedures. I’ve tried on the titles of copywriter and trainer. I called that past work tech writing, but now am getting reasonable push back from the other industries I overlap with.

Could Multitasking Be Unfair?

Part one of my article on LinkedIN quotes two industry experts and makes a brief mention of other professionals who feel a technical writer should be a specialist.

Two of the articles I quote come to similar conclusions that a technical writer should be a focused expert. One author suggests that marketing and technical writing require different types of experience. A previous article on my blog by Calvin Yee describes how the current market for tech writers requires a high-level of specialization in the topic, not just the technical documentation tools.

Shauna with Iron Man at the Four B Bagel in Seoul

My current clients are happy with my variety of services. I’m happy delivering the services. Given my current business, how does promoting my business as “technical writing” help or hurt the new clients that find me? I’m happy with my current projects, so I wonder, “Am I really a technical writer? Or, would my clients find me under a different title?”