Reality pushes us towards the biggest dilemma of technical writing once again — writing expertise vs. technical expertise.
Many employers decide this based on their subjective thoughts on the matter which is not the best approach. Sometimes, this choice is heavily dependent on company traditions. For example, a company has been always hiring people with technical education connected to its field and overlooked those who had excellent tech writing resumes but lacked tech skills.
How Important Tech Skills Are
Turns out, most technical writes at some point were faced with employers looking only for people with tech skills, while as we all know that doesn’t actually imply that a tech writer is any good.
In the software industry, we know many examples of situations when developers are responsible for creating user manuals. And, this inevitably leads to a loss in quality. For devs tech writing is no more than a ‘side hustle’, they can’t and won’t give it all the attention it deserves. So, user manuals, in this case, might be very precise from the technical standpoint but as far as readability and structure are concerned things might not be pretty.
Understandably, getting into a professional field without technical knowledge depends on what field it is and how much your potential employer is willing to invest in you. While the first point is clear and if you want to be a medical writer, for example, you already know that more often than not medical education is appreciated. The second point is more sensitive though.
We doubt that now anyone can seriously say things like, ‘User manuals are not important.’ By doing an excellent job, techcomm specialists have proven again and again how much value they can bring: providing effective case deflection, ensuring user satisfaction, enhancing product adoption, taking the workload from support, serving as an additional SEO tool. And yet, technical writers not always get the attention and appreciation they deserve. Namely, not every employer gets that there’s a certain tech writing skillset that lets all the good stuff happen and it is never limited to technical skills and knowing grammar. It is much more complex.
Should You Invest in Tech Skills?
Going deeper with tech skills is a big decision. When you don’t have a degree in a certain field, you need serious grounds for investing time and effort into this. And being somewhat sure that it will get you what you want eventually (like landing that job) is important.
The reality is that many employers wouldn’t want to hire people without tech skills (even if their tech writing skills are on point) hoping that the new hire is going to learn quickly what needs to be learned. They simply won’t risk it. So, what you require the most to make this decision is the clarity of purpose.
If you have a certain position or industry in mind, try figuring out how strict the requirements for tech skills are and plan out your personal development from there.
There are plenty of job opportunities for technical writers that won’t require deep technical knowledge, you can nail many tasks using other skills like the ability to process big amounts of information and single out the most important parts, be meticulous about logic and structure, break down difficult concepts and fit them into help topics, etc.
But if it feels like there’s no way around and you have to go through training sessions, get certified to be employed at some particular company or market sector, give it a thought and go with it if it clicks.
In conclusion, we would like to mention that career paths of technical writers are all very different and special. So, if you feel what you are doing is right and it brings you joy and satisfaction — keep doing it. There’s no instruction to life and there’s no instruction to the perfect career. Listen to yourself and you will figure out what it is that you want and with this knowledge, it will be easier to create a road map to success.
Good luck with your technical writing!
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