Technical Writing: What’s in a Name?



Written by Michael Benavidez

One interesting challenge I’ve noticed in searching for employment as a Technical Writer is how many different names companies might use for the same position. While I’ve seen plenty of employers list their need for a Technical Writer, I’ve also run into more than a few postings for Content Managers, Associate Editors, Documentation Specialists, and others that serve the same purpose.

The aspiring Technical Writer therefore has an opportunity to familiarize him or herself with several important keywords in order to cast the widest net when looking for jobs in the field. You don’t want to miss out on a great chance because you didn’t know what to look for!

Here are a few common titles I have noticed employers often substitute for Technical Writer:

  • Content Editor/Manager/Writer
  • Technical Editor
  • Documentation Engineer
  • Communication Specialist
  • Web Writer

Any one of these titles can also be combined with the others, depending on the employer’s preference, which may be as varied as their reasons for using such alternative titles in the first place. Some hiring managers may feel “Technical Writer” is too generic and vague for the scope of the position and that one of these other titles better reflects their needs. In other cases, internal budgeting issues can force a manager to get creative if hiring for technical writers becomes problematic. I recall a time at my job where HR was reluctant to approve hiring more Project Managers due to recent restructuring, where many PMs were eliminated. Suddenly the IT Department began hiring “Implementation Specialists” instead!

Whatever an employer’s reasons, the informed Technical Writer only benefits from an awareness of the many names and classifications their profession may come under. Not only will you be more likely to recognize opportunities, you’ll be more likely to tailor yourself to the needs of your audience by speaking their language.

Can you think of some other names used for tech writers? Please share them in the comments.

Changing Careers: From Book Editing to Technical Editing

Written by Leslie Brown

I wanted to be a writer for most of my life, but with a college degree in creative writing, it wasn’t easy to find a job or a career. I knew it was wishful thinking to think I might someday become a successful novelist or poet. So what then?

My career as a book editor

I searched around for any job that had something to do with writing or editing. Luckily I got a break, and I was hired as an assistant editor for a book publishing company in Los Angeles. Aside from answering phones and typing author and agent correspondence, I reviewed unsolicited manuscripts and made publishing recommendations based on character and plot development. I had stumbled into the beginning of my editing career.

After a year I made the move to New York. All the major publishing houses were there and it wasn’t hard to find another position as a book editor. The only problem was that on an assistant editor’s salary, the city was a struggle. So I moved back to Los Angeles and found a job at one of the only book publishing companies in the area. Once hired, I worked with famed authors and budding novelists. But soon the company cut back its business and most of us lost our jobs. So what then?

Introduction to computers

While pouring over lists of jobs, I kept seeing ads for word processors. It was 1983, and I didn’t know what they were. But if it had something to do with words, I thought I’d better find out. One day soon after, I saw a free introductory class to word processing. When I got to the class, the instructor asked if someone would help demonstrate what a word processor could do. I volunteered, and as I moved words around on the screen and formatted them with simple commands, I became completely hooked.

The personal computer industry was growing fast, and I thought there must be something a writer could do. As it turned out, there was a great need for computer manuals. I felt a door open.

My career as a technical editor

Again I got lucky, and without too much effort I landed a job as a technical editor at a major computer company. I completely embraced the technology, and my new career took off. Working closely with programmers, subject matter experts, and graphic designers, I wrote and edited user guides, installation manuals, online Help, computer-based training, release notes, and later, web content. There didn’t seem to be an end to the technical communication opportunities.

Today I am still fascinated by technology, and am still writing about aspects of it.

Have something to add? Please share it in the comments.